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From the time I was a little kid, my parents instilled in me the idea that if something was not mine, it was not okay to touch it without permission of the person (child or adult) to whom it did belong.
I don’t have conscious memory if I followed that guidance with my sister and her toys since many of them were shared items.
When we went into stores that had breakable items, my mom instructed us to put our hands behind our backs, not so that we wouldn’t take anything, but so that we wouldn’t accidently crash anything to the floor. To this day, when I go into a business with narrow aisles and delicate items, my hands reflexively go behind my back.
My parents never had to worry about me shoplifting, since I had an overdeveloped sense of conscience. When I was in my late teens or early 20s and was shopping in Woolworths, which went out of business in 1997 after a 118-year run, I was confronted by a sales woman who accused me of shoplifting. I was stunned and adamant that I had not taken anything. I invited her to look through my purse and proved my innocence. She was only mildly apologetic. If I was as assertive then as I am now, I would have spoken with the manager.
I am a member of Planet Fitness where I go three to five times a week, depending on my schedule. There, I give myself a body, mind, emotion, and spirit workout. As someone with the desire for fitness in my DNA (my dad was an athlete who boxed, jogged, and worked out at the gym until his late 70s, and my mom taught senior stretch and water aerobics after she and my dad retired and moved to Ft. Lauderdale), I rarely feel lack of motivation to go to what I sometimes think of as an ashram where I ponder the meaning of life while I sweat it out. I’m actually heading over there after writing this piece.
On the wall in the locker room is a sign that reminds members that they can prevent robbery by locking up their belongings. The first time I saw it, I shook my head and said to the air—since no one else was in the locker room at the time—that the only way to prevent robbery was not to touch what doesn’t belong to you.
In an ideal world, I shouldn’t need to put a Schlage lock on the locker and keep my keys with me while I make my way through the various equipment for the next hour or so. I wonder how many other members feel that way.
There have been times when, in search of an empty locker, I have opened the unprotected door to some that contained purses and backpacks—not even slightly tempted to disturb their peaceful slumber while they await their person’s return.
This morning, I saw a Facebook post on a community page that referenced break-ins of cars in a beautiful local park that I frequent as well. Someone had recently broken a window and took a purse stashed under a car seat. The responses were supportive and almost to a person, suggested how to keep personal items safe by either locking them in a trunk or taking them with you when enjoying the time in nature. This was my response, “It isn’t just about what might get stolen. It is about preventing break ins.”
My questions are these:
How can we as a human species respect each other’s boundaries and safety, not helping ourselves to items that are not our own? How can we trust each other and know that our belongings are safe, even if they are left unattended? How can we co-create a society in which no one ever need to be worried about theft?
It is our social obligation to be in integrity with each other. Then there’s that whole Golden Rule thing about not doing unto others what you would not want done to you.