According to a survey of 12,000 American high school students by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 74 percent cheated on an exam at least once in the past year. Of those who stole my newspaper, Lord only knows how many of the thieves currently attended college. This large downtown apartment rented out to a large number of nearby university students. So the number of students/thieves surely exceeded zero.
Currently, I receive home delivery of several newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and others. Last night, I awakened from an odd dream. Outside my home sat a well-dressed, bowtie-wearing, professorial-looking man browsing through my Wall Street Journal. On his knees was a stack of other papers.
"Excuse me," I said to the gentleman, "might that be my Wall Street Journal?" "That depends," he said, looking at the name-and-address label on the paper. "What is your name?"
"I see," I said. "Taking someone's paper is OK, provided you take it only from the specific person who subscribes to it. Is your name on it?"
"I just wanted to make sure it's yours," he responded.
"So let's get this straight," I said. "You find it acceptable to steal someone's paper, provided you steal it from someone other than its rightful owner."
I then snatched the paper from his hand and dared him to do something about it. A few seconds later, however, I discovered that I not only grabbed my newspaper, but also several other papers the "professor" held, papers that looked like student tests complete with handwritten grades.
"Excuse me," he said, "but did you grab my test papers?"
"Well," I said, "that depends, doesn't it? What is your name -- as well as the names of the students?"
Enraged, he called me a thief, threatened to send in the cops, while telling me of the incredible inconvenience he and his students face if I refused to return his papers.
Now, again, this is a dream. But back when I lived in that Cleveland apartment building, I moved from an apartment in the middle of the hall to one at the end, facing the hall. During my several years' stay at the end-of-the-hall apartment -- with the peephole directly facing the long corridor, enabling me to see anyone walking toward my apartment, including any would-be thief -- I missed not one newspaper.
Moral to the story: Honesty depends, at least in some measure, on whether someone thinks he or she might get caught. This applies to newspaper thieves, student test-takers, and some who claim poverty or homelessness.