THE RIGHT THING
Seglin: If the glove fits, don’t steal it
Bert enjoys taking his grandkids fishing whenever the weather is good and the fish are biting. He enjoys walking with them down to a bridge by the pond not far from his house, and then teaching them to bait the hook, cast their lines into the water, and wait for something to nibble on the line.
He’s been following this routine with his grandkids since they were toddlers. Now that they are 11 and 13, he believes they continue to enjoy the outings.
They also catch and release, unhooking the catch and tossing it back into the water. They rarely leave until each kid has reeled in at least one fish. To remove the fish from the hook, Bert carries a few latex gloves in his tackle box so the grandkids aren’t stung by a sharp fin or stabbed by the hook.
Typically, Bert buys a small package of latex gloves at his local hardware store for a few bucks. He sticks them in a drawer in his garage and puts a few in the tackle box before heading out to fish.
The day before another fishing outing was scheduled with his grandkids, Bert had a doctor’s appointment. A box of purple latex gloves in the examination room caught Bert’s eye. He couldn’t remember if he had stocked up on gloves for the following day’s trip.
“I figured I’d take a couple of gloves when the doctor wasn’t around to make sure I had them for the kids,” Bert writes, calculating that would save him a trip to the store.
But the next morning, he realized that he may have made a mistake. The gloves he regularly used with the grandkids were white. What would he tell them if they asked why they were using purple gloves, he wondered. Even though he now had the purple gloves, he decided he would still make a trip to the store to purchase the gloves he regularly used.
Once Bert took the purple gloves, it was unlikely his doctor would let him return them to the examination room. Fearing the possibility of either having to tell his grandkids he stole the gloves or lying to them about where they came from should not have been the reason not to take the gloves. The right thing would have been to buy his own latex gloves as he always did.
Asking his doctor if he could have a couple of gloves might have been more honest, but it’s hardly fair to ask the doctor to add to medical costs by letting patients take a few medical supplies. Offering to pay for the gloves on his next visit would be honest, but it’s unlikely his doctor would be in a position to process the payment.
Perhaps the best lesson for Bert is that when faced with such temptations in the future, he should fight the urge to save time by engaging in a little dishonesty, even if no one but him will ever know about the theft.
Jeffrey L. Seglin is a lecturer in public policy and director of communication program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org