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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone

It seems that everywhere I look this week, the media is reporting tales of honesty, or rather, dishonesty, with the fiasco regarding MP's expenses and the case of the New Zealand couple who disappeared after their bank inadvertently paid a $10 million overdraft into their account rather than $10,000. I have found myself asking if I were in a similar situation would I have done the same, and I can't honestly say that I would. Of course I would be tempted, but when you think about the practicalities of life on the run, always using false names and constantly looking over your shoulder, not to mention saying goodbye to your family and friends, is it really worth it? Sooner or later the law is bound to catch up with them, so I hope they enjoy it while they can.

Back in New Zealand, in fact all over the world, the couple are being hailed as folk heroes, for playing the bank at their own game. I cannot speak for New Zealand banks, but if the ones in our own country are anything to go by, you cannot blame people for feeling this, as it is the recklessness of those in the city who have largely contributed to the situation we are now in, while they were and in many cases continue, to get exorbitant salaries and bonuses worth more than I can hope to earn in my entire life. When it comes to small businesses, or even private individuals, the banks show no mercy or leniency whatsoever. My own bank recently charged me what I thought was an exorbitant amount for going a few pence into the red by one day while I waited for some funds to clear. When it comes down to it though, stealing is stealing, and like I said, sooner or later the law will catch them up.

All this has made me take a long hard look at myself, and ask the question, where or how have I ever behaved like this? There is an old but true saying, "let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone. If I am to be really honest, my own life is not entirely free of blemishes. I went through a phase in my teens where I played truant from school (due to bullying) and fell in with a less than savoury crowd who encouraged me to go shoplifting. I did not succumb, but the thought was there. There have also been times when I used trains without paying, mostly because the train was coming in and I did not have time to buy a ticket and there was no one at the other end to check. Then there was the time that I took stationary home from an office that about to close and re-locate to the other end of the country. Does this make me a dishonest person, not necessarily since I have owned up, but stealing is stealing no matter how you look at it.

Some would say that this cannot be compared to what the MP's have done (£1600 for a duck island?), and of course those responsible for these fraudulent claims should be held to account, but dishonesty in whatever form is still dishonesty, and the fact that these stories seem to be so much in the news is an invitation for us to look into our own lives with honesty and see where and if we behave in a similar manner. I suspect that there are not that many who can really and honestly say that they have never taken advantage of situations in order to gain some benefit for themselves.

This applies just as much to companies as it does to private individuals - thousands of firms rely on the goodwill of their staff to do unpaid overtime, working late or through their lunch hours to get the work done. This too is a form of fraud, since these individuals should be paid for the work that they do, or receive compensatory rest. My ex employer tried to do this to me, and got away with it by saying (which was blatantly untrue) that I was told in advance this work would be unpaid. This too is a form of stealing, since it robs those individuals not just of money to which they are entitled, but also to time with their families and friends, relaxing away from work. Ultimately this is far more valuable than all the money in the world, as I have discovered these past few weeks, when I worked 13 days in a row.

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