It is easy to blame our tendency to steal on the lust of human nature. It is certainly true, and if we scrupulously track our desires and rein them in before they overcome us, we will significantly reduce stealing. But what is interesting are the excuses we give ourselves and others for the stealing we do. Unless we keep our conscience razor sharp, it is easily dulled by rationalization.

It is not infrequent to hear someone at work complain, "They won't let you make an honest living any more." The blame for not being scrupulously honest is shifted to "they." People make the same justification at every level. A study of business ethics by a Harvard graduate student revealed that most junior executives place the responsibility for their unethical practices upon the expectations of management.

Sometimes we apply a double standard of judgment to what we consider the rich and the poor or small business and corporations. A child may begin a lifetime of petty theft by justifying the stealing of a toy from a "better off" playmate because "he has lots of toys and won't miss this little one." For the same reason, juries award excessively high damages because a corporation has plenty of money and can afford it, or if they are insured, the insurance company will pay it.

We also distinguish between personal property and public. In our minds, stealing from the government is different from robbing our neighbor. My wife and I once had a landlord who firmly proclaimed that he never stole from his friends!

Ultimately, what we steal from corporations or the government we must pay back in higher prices and taxes. The effect may not be immediate, but it is the only effect that can occur. Neither the corporation's nor the government's pockets are so deep that they can just absorb multiple, individually small losses.

Another double standard is making a distinction between large and small thefts. It is almost as if a small theft is excusable simply because it is small and thus of no account. Some parents, to "save" some money, unwittingly introduce their children to stealing by lying about their age to save a few cents on a bus trip or movie ticket. Hardly any thief begins his life of crime by stealing "big." They begin "small" and work themselves "up the ladder" to more grandiose and exciting adventures in thievery. One can hardly expect a child to develop honor for his parents in an atmosphere of parental thievery.