Is Lying or Stealing Wrong?


Why ask such obvious questions? Because they are not so obvious,

at least not in this society. And, from what I hear from France, Greece, Italy, and Russia, America may still have a better sense of the essential “rights and wrongs” than many societies.

I listened to a part of a segment on N.P.R. this week that got me thinking. Apparently, there are such things as “unlimited metro cards” issued to students, governmental employees, and perhaps welfare recipients?, who get to use the card for the N.Y.C. subway system. Somebody pays for these cards, and the users do not have to.

The ethical question was ,”Is it wrong to let someone swipe your card.” I only heard 15 minutes, but apparently they spent at least 30 minutes with this dilemma. There were such questions as, “What if the person behind you asks you to swipe for them?” “If you lose your card, can you ask someone to swipe for you?” “Can you sell swipes to others?”

The learned host pointed out that allowing another to swipe isn’t really taking anything. What!!?? Somebody pays for every seat on that train, every turnstile, and every security guard. The “unlimited card” no doubt is for one person, student, worker, or retiree and is based on a firm statistical estimate of how many swipes they need. How can giving or selling your swipe to someone else be any different than taking your buffet plate outside and handing to a homeless person?

Handing it to the homeless person is probably better than selling it to a crack dealer so he can stay on his corner, but I believe that STEALING IS STEALING. Allow someone to take a seat, and the taxpayers or paying customers are diminished.

This week, a fellow lawyer I like very much filed a motion to protect her client from answering an “overburdonsome request”. Overburdensome is even worse than burdensome. She told the Court I had asked her client to describe every trip he had taken in his home county and out of the county for two years. I did? I did not remember asking that? I wonder why I wanted to know that? But, in my haste, I did not have the offending request at hand. I, of course, looked stupid, and she looked properly indignant.

But, here is “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. When my loyal paralegal fished the offending question from of the file, turns out I actually asked for every trip the respondent took that caused him to leave his child overnight with someone else during his parenting time. She found this request very “confusing”. Confusing in this context means, “I know damn well what he wants, but I am going to pretend I don’t.”

It was a very relevant question in light of allegations that he frequently dumps the child on his Mom, took lavish business trips to gambling venues, and had a girlfriend he liked to visit, even when he had the child. Hmm…….so he had so many of these trips that he simply could not remember, or did the lawyer play some games with the truth to make her point with the judge? You can decide.

Issues such as this are more ambiguous than before the “Coach Rod Era”. We can be enraged at the coach for trying to avoid “liquidated damages”, and then WVU can try to do exactly the same thing to The Big East , and no WVU fan raises a fuss. Not quite so. I see on Face Book that some people agree with me. WVU needs to pay up.

Liquidated damages are simple. Break the contract, and you pay for damages that you do not have to prove. Coach Rod’s was $4,000,000, and WVU’s was $5,000,000. I see a good compromise. Let’s assign coach Rod’s obligation to the Big East!

Where do these rules of right and wrong come from? As I have written on other posts, some think they come down from “on high”. Thus we have “The Ten Commandments”.

Strangely, although we are assured that God hands out these rules to his special intermediaries on earth, “An Eye for An Eye” turns into “Turn the Other Cheek”. I picked up my “can’t helps” from my upbringing in the church, 4-H Clubs, Scouts, coaches, teachers, and my parents. The Rules of Professional Responsibility, and other guidelines are helpful, but very static and sometimes short-sighted. Our WV Supreme Court and State Ethics Counsel, in my humble opinion, apply different standards to solo and small firm lawyers than they do to the big firms.

Perhaps God can become more enlightened? Maybe he can even become tolerant of gays? And their marriages? God designs a world with gays in it, and orders them to obey the rules he handed out to straight people? Why didn’t he hand out rules for gay people? Why did he not create only straight people? The Devil again? And why does an omnipotent, all-knowing God allow the Devil to hang around?

I remember a movie or book where there was a question to a young woman of how many men could a 30 year old woman sleep with before she is considered a slut. Her answer, “12”? Hmmm. Used to be three? I think. These rules shift as society evolves. How then can they be “natural law”?

Dear Abby had a letter today from a lady who had many nice friends. Then she dated a black man, and all her friends shunned her. Some friends!

Why did God forget to add the Commandment, “Thou Shall not shun your white friend for dating a black person?”

Paul Harris has a Kindle essay, “Lying”. What a nice little article, and by an atheist! Shocking. He discusses the many things we do and say that are not true. In my family practice, parents and grandparents often tell the children bad things about the other parent and defend themselves with, “But it is true.” Just because something is true does NOT mean it needs to be spoken, especialy to a child enduring the trauma of his parents’ divorce. Behavior has improved with the court mandated classes for divorcing parents, but the lawyers, judges, and teachers of the classes have virtually no communication. I did not even know that a friend of mine teaches the course!

My favorite example of misguided candor (perhaps) is “Honest Abe” in the Geico commercial; a rare recently discovered movie of President and Mrs. Lincoln where she asks him if her dress makes her look fat. His answer? To hold his thumb and index fingers about an inch apart. Off she goes in a huff. The truth may not always be the best policy. It takes courage to be truthful and honest if those around you are not.

Some creatures, especially predators, survive by lying, to their partners and other species. Representatives of governments, universities, military units and churches, lie to protect the organization. Machiavelli wrote a classic work on such issues.

I say, tell the truth as best you can and do not steal. (A mild variance is “only lie when you really have to save your ass or spare a feeling.”)

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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