"Thou shalt not steal"

My mother, in her quiet way, once told me something that I have since come to think of as "my mother's rule for guarding my moral integrity." She said: "If you wouldn't want people to know you are doing it, don't do it." This gave me a yardstick for measuring the Rightness or wrongness of something I was tempted to do—before I did it. If I knew I wouldn't be happy to have someone catch me at it, I knew it was wrong, and I wouldn't do it.

Stealing is something that obviously fits into the category of not wanting people to know what you are doing; it's usually done secretly, with the hope of never being found out. I don't recall exactly when mother gave me this advice, though I do know it was sometime after a couple of instances when I had sneaked into her bedroom and taken something from her purse. She never mentioned those instances specifically, but I can't remember stealing anything after that. It was clear to me that stealing was wrong, and I had no desire to do what I knew was wrong. I wanted to do what was right—the kind of thing I would be happy to know that I had done, and that I would be happy to have others know about. That made stealing out of the question for me, because it would rob me of my moral integrity.

Too much buying—how do you stop?
August 12, 1996

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