Stealing from Starbucks

December 18, 2005

2 min read


Is my friend a hero?

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I have a friend who -- along with millions of others -- is addicted to Starbucks. She can't get through the day without her grande nonfat one Splenda latte.

If she can't leave the house (due to work and child demands), she sends her housekeeper to purchase her daily fix. I don't begrudge her this habit. It seems a relatively minor and relatively inexpensive indulgence. And it seems to brighten her day. As they say in those credit card ads: priceless.

She told me about her recent experience. It was another insanely busy day -- so once again her housekeeper did the errand for her (not under duress; she welcomes the opportunity to go for a walk in the beautiful California sunshine). When she returned with the change, there was $5.00 too much. Perhaps the bills were stuck together (there were some new ones), perhaps the cashier was in a rush. Whatever the reason, there it was.

Although it's not like winning the lottery, it's always nice to discover extra money, even $5.00. It's one and a half free lattes!

But my friend knew it wasn't hers to spend. Not only doesn't she buy into the philosophy that big corporations are greedy and won't miss it (why does that make it hers?), not only was she conscious that perhaps the salesperson would be held personally responsible and liable, but most importantly, she knew it was stealing.

So even though it wasn't a lot of money, even though it wasn't her mistake, even though it was inconvenient and time-consuming, my friend trudged over to Starbucks and returned the money.

A returning war hero could not have received a more enthusiastic reception. They applauded her honesty, offered her a free cup of coffee and waxed enthusiastic over her good deed. They did check the tills and found one that was $5.21 short. My friend could not account for the missing 21 cents.

Although I congratulated myself on my wise choice of friends, something about this story struck a disturbing note. Why was it such a big deal? Has honesty become so rare that we are shocked and admiring when we see examples of it?

I'd like to think that if I lost something it would be reported and returned. I'd like to think that if I overpaid, I'd still get the correct change. I'd like to think we all look for ways to help one another, not exploit and take advantage. I'd like to think that simple human decency is alive and well. I'd like to see returning $5.00 relegated to the trivial and commonplace.

The last straw, so to speak, that sealed humanity's fate and triggered the Flood was robbery. Why that of all things? Because robbery shows complete indifference to others. "I got $5 extra change? Great. More for me." There is no consciousness of any other factors at play. It is soul-numbing and character-destroying.

I guess I mistakenly characterized my friend's actions. They were not insignificant or trivial. It's these small actions that say, "I care." It's these small actions that build personal character and create community. It's these small actions that sustain the world.

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