Stealing from Children, Part II

Why do People Steal

Think of an excuse, any excuse, that people might give as to why they stole.  It has probably been used. The reasons that thieves use to justify their behavior are really not instructive.

In the movie The Big Chill  Jeff Goldblum’s character says: rationalizations are more important than sex. We can go for weeks without sex but try getting through the day without at least one rationalization.

Funny, and true.  We all rationalize our behavior.  We just cannot know who is going to rationalize stealing.

I was shown a letter that a particularly bold thief wrote after she was caught.  Yes, she spoke of her family difficulties, and how she was keeping records and was planning to pay back every penny (a common claim).  She also claimed that the theft was about one twentieth of the size than it actually was.  So much for keeping records.  Then the letter started to ramble on about the perceived bad behavior of other employees, as though that justified what she did. Then she said that if we proceeded with her prosecution the local newspaper was going to get a lot of details about a lot of misdeeds.

The list of “misdeeds” that she chronicled were of two basic types:

  • Who was having an affair with whom
  • Which employees were gay

The likelihood that the local newspaper would be interested in or publish such information was zero.  I mention this only to illustrate that the reasons that people give for stealing are probably false, or at least self-deluding, and are therefore basically unimportant. If we think that we can approach school theft from a motivational angle, we are mistaken.

The only approach we can and should take is to limit the opportunity.  If you provide the opportunity by ignoring standard controls, your name is going to end up in the newspaper, along with that of the perpetrator.

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