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Morality or opportunity

(26 Posts)
Gracesgran Sun 07-Sep-14 15:28:02

I have always believed that the quote "Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave" was a truism but more and more I am beginning to believe it is not morality but opportunity, or rather the removal of it, that keeps people in line. For example, if you leave a £5 note on the pavement some people will pick it up an pocket it (stealing), some will walk past (avoiding any moral decision) and some hand it in to the police (very few I fear). However, if the £5 note had not been there (no opportunity) no one would have had their morality tested.

What do you think?

My thoughts have so far covered the poor care in some hospitals where paperwork was put first, the behaviour of some towards benefits and politicians abusing their expenses.

littleflo Sun 07-Sep-14 15:40:09

Your opening line really struck me. When I worked in a bank, the staff were given targets for everything. Failure to meet them would result in excessive stress for the staff and even the loss of their job. All of the recent mis-selling scandals are a direct result of these targets. People found so many ways to cheat the system to ensure that they stayed in employment.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 17:01:08

Yes, but there might be shades of grey here. Some people would pick the fiver up gleefully and be glad someone dropped it, whist others would pick it up, look round to see who might have dropped it and only pocket it reluctantly with the thought, "if I don't have it someone else will". Or the picker upper might put it in the next charity box he sees.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 17:01:53

Not sure if that takes the argument on or not. confused

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 17:02:55

No. I don't think it does.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 17:05:34

Are you saying that even good people would be wicked if they had half a chance and could benefit from it? That's a rather jaundiced view of the world. grin

HildaW Sun 07-Sep-14 17:06:20

I too worked in a bank, but in the 70s and early 80s when keeping our customers out of debt was the order of the day. All that target business came later and we are now reaping that particular whirlwind.
Curiously one of the big banks was mention on the BBC breakfast news and introducing a 'marvellous' new scheme of contacting you early in the day if a DD was going to be bounced and giving you until early afternoon to get funds in to meet it. That's exactly what we were doing way back in the 7os!!
Interestingly, back in those days our honestly was greatly valued and subtly put to the test. As a junior one of the first jobs was balancing the post book....£20 worth of stamps and petty change had to balance to the penny and was checked by a superior. Our own personal accounts were perused by our Manager who made sure no one was living beyond their means or had other sources of income. We learned to be precise, honest and fair....that's what kept us in a job then.

Gracesgran Sun 07-Sep-14 17:20:34

I'm not sure if the view is jaundiced or realistic jinglbellsfrocks.

If it was decided that many if not most will break their own rules of morality given the right circumstances - keeping their job, keeping their life, protecting their family then the emphasis should be more on ensuring the rules of society achieve what we wish them achieve rather than suggesting people are "bad" if they manipulate them.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 17:27:31

You can surely excuse someone for breaking the morality rules over a really big thing - like saving a loved one. But you still need rules for everyday living.

HildaW Sun 07-Sep-14 17:31:56

Of course the rules of society and morality do not always go hand in hand. One only has to look around to realise that many societies past and present live by a set of rules that many of us would be very uncomfortable with.

Basic decent human morality is a much more difficult path to tread...are we being 'good' because we are being moral or are we just reluctant to be caught and punished.

No easy answers I'm afraid, I can honestly say that I've never been tempted (as a child...sweet shop etc etc). Did I do the right thing because I was being moral or was I just too scared of being caught. Then again if my child's life depended on me doing something against society....would I do it? Or if it was against basic human morality (causing another person harm) would I do it? Who knows until they are faced with that.

thatbags Sun 07-Sep-14 19:15:01

I wouldn't regard the scenario with the fiver 'left' or lost on the pavement stealing unless it was obvious that someone had put it there as a trap for unsuspecting people who thought they'd just made a lucky find. And, to be honest, a person who would do that kind of mean thing deserves to have it nicked.

It's no more immoral of someone to keep such a find than it is for a three year old to eat a chocolate biscuit someone 'leaves' on a plate within reach.

thatbags Sun 07-Sep-14 19:17:29

There are no easy answers to moral questions. If you found £5,000 pounds "left" on the pavement, it would a be a different matter.

But really, it's a daft scenario.

Gracesgran Sun 07-Sep-14 19:31:46

I was really only using the £5 as an example to show that, no matter how moral or immoral anyone is, it is a better protection to society if there is no opportunity.

thatbags Sun 07-Sep-14 19:59:25

But that is unrealistic. Of course there will be opportunities, many of them unplanned and accidental. There is no reasonable way opportunities to be immoral could be entirely avoided. In the same way there is no reasonable way opportunities to be moral could be either put in people's way or removed. Things happen. We don't control everything. We can learn to control our own behaviour though if we are taught how to distinguish between right and wrong.

So, taking £5 from someone would be stealing but finding £5, presumed lost by who knows whom, is just lucky for the finder. They have not abused anyone (or anything) else with their find so they have done no wrong.

penguinpaperback Sun 07-Sep-14 20:09:50

I handed in the £5. OH and I married at 21 and 19 and were as poor as church mice. After paying the rent for our council flat at the town hall I handed in the five pound note I had just found on the floor as I walked in. It didn't enter my head to take any other course of action. This was in 1978. The cashier looked through me and just about muttered a thanks. Wonder what happened to the note after I left?

janerowena Sun 07-Sep-14 20:15:59

I handed in a purse containing £20. I won't say I wasn't tempted though... I did get a call to say thanks passed on from the station though. So the feeling of virtuousness was my reward.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 20:18:41

Hmm. That's different than finding it on the pavement though. Someone could have come back and enquired about it. I hope they gave it to charity if not.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 07-Sep-14 20:19:37

Sorry. That was in reply to ppb

thatbags Sun 07-Sep-14 20:20:19

That's a different scenario as someone in the building who'd lost £5 could, posssibly, be traced and it might be worth a try. But I don't think you would have been stealing if you'd kept it. Someone who had lost it would have been unlucky (or careless) and you would have been lucky. It's not a black and white issue though, more one of probabilities—when the chances of finding the loser of the money go up, the 'morality' of keeping the money or otherwise changes.

thatbags Sun 07-Sep-14 20:21:04

That was in reply to ppb's post too.

Gracesgran Mon 08-Sep-14 00:03:38

Taking by finding is, as far as I understand, illegal and always has been. I was certainly brought up to believe it was immoral too.

Of course, thatbags, it would be impossible to close all opportunities for people to behave badly but perhaps we should be putting more effort into doing so instead of moralising - as the press does at length - about those thought to have behaved immorally even though they have behave within the scope of the system that applies to them.

petra Mon 08-Sep-14 07:14:18

You don't say what you would do,Gracesgran. Me, no moral dilemma. I would pick it up and give to a local charity.
The last place it would go would be the local Police station.
I find that the older I get the more jaded I get about human nature. I think that most people take the 'me me ' route.

thatbags Mon 08-Sep-14 07:24:50

So the plastic bucket I found on the local beach several years ago that I presumed someone has either discarded deliberately or lost inadvertently and which then floated up our loch on the tide and which I picked up and still use is stolen goods?

Ditto the wonky wooden folding chair which I use in my kitchen?

Rhetorical question. Of course they are not stolen goods. And of course I have done nothing wrong in keeping them. And that is regardless of the fact that the chances of finding the owners are fairly near zero and that the chances of the original owners wanting the stuff back if they were found are likely to be near to certainty.

Coastal metal-detectors have to get a licence from "the crown" to allow them to keep finds. The licences are given out very freely with certain provisos about valuable stuff.

But no-one gives a damn about ordinary everyday stuff that is "found" and kept and used by the finder. It is not stealing whatever the law says. Something being legal does not make it right and something being illegal does not make it wrong or immoral. Legality is not the same as morality.

thatbags Mon 08-Sep-14 07:31:46

Of course I'm "moralising". That's how I decide whether something is justifiable on moral grounds or not. One can be morally right while breaking laws, though one does have to be prepared to accept the judicial consequences of being right as, for instance, in the case of conscientious objectors during WW1. But even they were not right in absolute terms, and the law of the land was neither right nor wrong in absolute terms.

thatbags Mon 08-Sep-14 07:33:02

Sorry, got muddled in first post today. The chances of original owners not wanting their possessions back would be near to certainty.