The pencil, the boy and the cokes

An eight year old boy is sent home with a note from his teacher reporting the fact that he stole a pencil from a classmate. That evening the boy gets a stern talking to from his father, who lectures him on the importance of honesty and how he should never abuse the trust that others place in him. Finally in an attempt to understand the boy’s motives and to prevent it from happening again the exasperated father asks his son, “why would you ever steal a pencil when you know that I can bring you 10 home from work?”

While this is an illustrative example, the hypocrisy with which honesty is sometimes applied is genuine and it conveys the point well of how easily we all to some degree apply double standards.

To establish real proof of this human condition American researchers set up an experiment in a student residence which housed 200 post graduates on MIT university’s campus. The moral trap they set involved placing 30 cans of Coke in the common room fridge and placing 30 individual $1 notes on a nearby counter.

With the student traffic passing through the common room it took a mere 2 hours for the 30 cokes to be stolen but oddly none of the S1 notes went missing. The conclusion was that despite the cost of a can of Coke costing roughly S1 in the vending machine in the same residence, the act of taking someone else’s cold Coke on a sunny Cambridge afternoon is a whole lot “less stealing” that stealing a dollar.

I think what makes both of these examples interesting in that it causes us to question how faced with these situations we would have acted ourselves and well, (erggem-throat clearing) if most of you arrive at the same conclusions I have, it focusses us to more vigilantly examine everything we do for the same duplicities and contradictions.