I committed a crime. So did you, and you, and you. When I picked up that pencil off the floor today, I didn't think much about it. It was a routine thing, much like tying my shoes or sneezing. No one was claiming that pencil, so I thought I could take it. There was no victim, at least in my mind. I was wrong. Let’s say students pick up 3 pencils a week, all from the same siblings who must have a hole in each of their pencil cases. Say their parent works a minimum wage job, 9 dollars an hour. If we pick up 12 pencils a month, and pencils cost about 10 cents, that is a cost of 1 Dollar and 20 cents. If we were to maintain this rate for a school year, other students would take 12 dollars a year from this family. That means a parent had to work an extra hour and 20 Minutes, potentially doing hard labor, just to support other students pencil needs. Doesn't that seem a little bit like stealing now? The way our brain perceives theft is truly amazing, and that is what I wanted to explore.
There are three basic reasons for theft; Poverty, Mental, or Personal, which includes things like revenge, pranks, dares, and employee theft. The first reason, perhaps the most well known when we think of theft, is Poverty.
Stealing to survive is an ancient practice, seen in virtually every society in history. People need, or want, to get out of poverty and steal from business or other individuals, to put enough food on the table. This seems very prevalent, as poor areas generally are more susceptible to crime, but this rule isn't always true. The countries with the highest theft rates include India, South Africa, and Belize, which despite not being considered wealthy nations, are far from the poorest. Countries like Cyprus and Bahrain come in as some of the safest, however neither of them hold an incredibly high GDP. Even though there are these huge exceptions, we can still see a correlation between poverty and theft- but that is most likely due, at least in small part, to lack of police, and law enforcement resources in poorer nations. Another, more far fetched theory, suggests that the reason countries are poor, is due to a lack of societal pressure to follow the law. This theory suggested that countries are poor because of crime, not the other way around. Regardless, theft is still something every nation in history has faced, so we must not rush to judgement. Maybe this could end, but as for now, it's still better to lock your car, and not brandish valuables whether you are in Monaco or Mogadishu.
Stealing because of personal issues is also a common occurrence. Employees who were fired from retail jobs have been caught attempting to steal or destroy property from their (former) employer. In fact, employee theft accounts for the loss 17.6 billion dollars a year, according to the University of Florida study, “National Retail Security Survey” . This along with, the significant theft from youth, often for “fun” (kids these days…), contributed to a sort of stealing “game”. Unfortunately, even I have experienced shoplifting by youths, most of the time by children who would be viewed as wealthy. This disturbs me. Remember, you aren't stealing from the CEO of Walmart! You are stealing from that cashier who might get his pay docked because of you.
The third cause for theft, perhaps the rarest, is due to mental disorders such as kleptomania. Despite what you might read, kleptomania is responsible for a tiny portion of theft. Kleptomania is described by the Mayo Clinic as a "recurring failure to resist urges to steal items that you don't generally need or and that usually have very little value. Disorders like kleptomania can not only be dangerous for store owners, but for sufferers of the disorder of well. Often the people effected by these disorders are "good people" who have absolutely no criminal record besides stealing. This makes me wonder, who is the real victim?
What I learned from my research, is that the vast majority of respondents admitted to stealing. Most of the class I surveyed had taken an object or cash from a family member. The reason this is so profound, is that only a single person regarded their actions as theft. This brings the question, what makes "theft", theft, and not "borrowing" or "using", or some other unpersuasive excuse. In the end, despite the espousals an attorney, a lawyer, or any reputable official might make, we define theft. Most instances of stealing won't go before a court, so it is our duty to define what is theft, and it is our duty to understand why we do it. Of course, we steal for many, different reasons, but a large percent of the time, we don't think that we are actually committing a crime. Now, more than ever, the rule of law seems pertinent, but I hope that people don't start calling the FBI when someone steals their pencil. I wish that humans will stop stealing, or at least slow down, but until then I can only say one thing; people are people. If robbers were forced to meet their victims, I am convinced that crime would drop significantly. On the flip side, just because someone stole doesn't make them a bad person. In the end, them pickpocketing 10 dollars from your wallet might be just as bad as you picking up those aforementioned pencils. Regardless, the best thing you can do is described as follows: lock your doors and close your pencil cases.