Saturday, January 17, 2009

Those Darn Morals! Part 2

Regular readers of this blog may remember this post from last June, wherein I described an incident where I ordered an ice mocha from Starbucks but was not charged for it. I had walked out of the store without paying, but then stopped and walked back in and paid for it. It was a moment where my impulses came into conflict with my values, and my values won.

A couple of weeks ago I had brought my kids with me to Trio Hardware, a family owned hardware store here in Plainview. I can't recall what it was I wanted to buy, but when I was standing in line to pay for what I wanted to buy, my kids had each grabbed a small toy from some rack near the register. My daughter (age 5) had some octopus looking thing and my son (age 7) had a little frog that when you squeezed it, its tongue would stick out. My kids pleaded with me to buy the toys for them, but I told them no. I don't normally buy them toys on impulse like that, because I don't want them to think that every time I take them to a store with me that they are entitled to get a toy. (Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible parent!)

I told my kids to put the toys back where they found them and then it was my turn to pay for the items I wanted to buy. Later that night, my kids and I were down in the family room in the basement watching a movie. For some reason, I had opened a storage ottoman I recently purchased that was near the stairs. And when I looked inside, lo and behold, there was the toy that my daughter wanted me to buy for her. When I wasn't looking, she must have put the toy into her jacket pocket while I was making my purchase at the hardware store. I confronted my daughter about it and told her that she would have to go back to the hardware store with me the next morning to return it.

So, the next day, I dropped my son off at a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese in Hicksville and then drove my daughter to the hardware store. As I was talking with my daughter about why it was wrong to steal, she said to me that my son had taken a toy as well. We got to the hardware store and told my daughter to hand the toy over to the teenage girl manning the register. I explained to the girl what had happened, but she seemed rather nonplussed by it all.

An hour and a half later, I returned to Chuck E Cheese to pick up my son. After we had gotten in the car and exchanged small talk about the party, I hit him with it. "By the way, your sister tells me that you also stole a toy from the hardware store yesterday. Is this true." He admitted it. "Great!" I moaned, "now I have to go back to the hardware store again!" So, we stopped at my house first and I told my son to go find the toy he had stolen, and then we headed back to Trio Hardware.

When we got there, the same teenage girl was behind the counter, and I tried to imagine how ridiculous it would look to her to see me back there with another one of my kids to return a stolen toy. As I stood waiting for her to finish with the customer on line ahead of me, I noticed a woman standing near me who looked to be in her fifties. I assumed she was another customer. She looked at me and asked me if I needed help with anything. I told her no, and explained that I was returning a toy that my son had stolen the day before and that I wanted to make him return it to teach him a lesson. She then identified herself as Francesca Carlow, the co-owner of the store. She thanked me for bringing the toy back (not that it really cost much, maybe 2 or 3 bucks, but it was the principle of the thing). I explained to Mrs. Carlow what had happened, and she thanked me again for doing the right thing and shook my hand. I had my son apologize to her and hand over the toy and she thanked him and spoke to him in a very friendly manner.

I saw it as one of those "teachable moments," where my children could learn a valuable lesson by realizing that there were consequences to their actions. I explained to both my children that when grownups steal things, they can be arrested and go to jail. Hopefully, the lesson will stick with them.

So much for atheists not having morals, eh?


rgz said...

Except that your morals are also based on your impulses and values so it wasn't a "impulses vs values" but an "impulses vs impulses" or even a "values vs values" thing.

RedFerret said...

Good work mate. Nice to know people still teach their kids this type of thing (Regardless of religion).

Did the same thing in a post office a few months back, picked up an envelope and posted some things, 10 mins later realised that although I had paid for the postage, I hadn't paid for the envelope. I went back and paid (only about £1), but the cashier was suprised. Yep, no morals us atheists.


tina FCD said...

My sister would have my youngest boy for the weekend or whatever and if he stole something, a small hot wheels car or something, she would be too embarrassed to take him back to the store. She would say, "I can't let him be embarrassed like that!"
Needless to say, he became quite the thief for awhile. Stole jewelry, sweatshirts, anything, and would take up one of the boards in the floor and hide them. I found the stuff and made him take it back to my niece and her boyfriend. He was about 6 foot four and I asked him to pick up my kid(I think he was about 13 at the time) and jack him up against the wall. But no, he said, "well I can't do that!" Yes you can, you have my permission, don't hit him or anything, just scare the crap outta him.
My family spoiled my kid rotten because they felt sorry for him that he was deaf.

tina FCD said...

Oh, and you did the right thing!

Lucian said...

You atheists have simply no fear of God ... no wonder Your kids end up stealing all sorts of things ... :-\

Christopher said...

Regarding atheists and their supposed lack of morals, I've said this elsewhere, but hopefully you won't mind mind my repeating it. It's ridiculous that some religious people believe people can only be good as long as there's an invisible, omnipotent father looking over their shoulder. Do people who subscribe to this view really believe that, in the absence of a god (or gods), we could and would all steal, rape, and murder without any qualms and without any consequences? I'm not sure what you said to your kids, but I'm assuming one of the things you asked them was, "How would you feel if someone stole something from you?" The ability to empathize, to ask oneself, "How would I feel if the positions were reversed?" is not dependent on any religious belief. In fact I've seen cases where the ability to empathize was actually diminished by a person's religious views.

Tommy said...

Hi Chris!

If I recall, the way I framed it to my kids was:

1. How would you like it if someone took something that belonged to you?

2. If everyone stole from the store, the store would go out of business. Eventually no one would be in the business of selling anything if they were constantly being stolen from.

Oh, and I almost forgot. rgz above wrote:

Except that your morals are also based on your impulses and values so it wasn't a "impulses vs values" but an "impulses vs impulses" or even a "values vs values" thing.

I must disagree with this. Impulses are spontaneous. A value system is not an impulse, because it is something that frames how you interact with the world. Think of it as a default position, with an impulse being a temptation to break with the default position. However, in the case of the Starbucks thing, one could argue that my decision to go back and pay for my iced mocha after I had already left the store was a counter-impulse.

Christopher said...

Hi Tommy! I can only add two things:

1. There's a wonderful irony in the fact that what an atheist teaches his children gives me faith in future generations.

2. "Counter-impulse"...that's a good one. I hope I'll be able to use that one sometime.

Sparrowhawk said...

A perfect example of why I actually think non-religious morality is BETTER than theistic morality. You taught your kids WHY stealing was wrong, not just THAT it was wrong and that they would be spanked for eternity by the sky man if they steal things. Well done.

Tommy said...

Thank you, Sparrowhawk! I just hope the lesson sticks. Sometimes, it needs reinforcing before it really sinks in.