Sunday, July 15, 2012

Honesty being destroyed

Conscience malfunction … Jenny Clarke at her broiler farm near Central Mangrove with her honesty box, which she says no longer works as it is supposed to. Photo: Ben Rushton

Poultry farmers Jenny Clarke and her husband, Andrew, have experienced this kind of deceit all too often. For 10 years they've been selling chook poo, now $2.50 a bag, at their Central Mangrove farm gate. Once Mrs Clarke stood and chatted with someone who'd loaded 20 or so bags into a car and told her the money was in the box. She discovered their lie only after they'd driven off. People have deposited bottle tops and metal washers instead of coins, because ''they think someone is watching so it looks like they have put something in''.

Someone ''paid'' with a pair of homemade earrings wrapped in paper. More commonly, says Mrs Clarke, people pay, but less than the full amount: ''They might pay for five bags but take six or seven''.

Last week police were called to our local Woolworths Supermarket and arrested a young male for shoplifting. Staff had observed him stuffing a DVD from a display stand down the front of his trousers and attempting to leave without paying for it. - Note:
  • The offender was "known" to the store.
  • The offender had previously been barred from entering the store for similar shoplifting efforts.
  • The offender was observed entering the store and was tracked by staff on CCTV and observed committing the offence which was also videotaped.
Quite obviously, all those events previously cited were deliberate and carried out with deceitful intent.

We have learnt over the years this unpalatable modern ''truth'' about dishonesty, now the subject of a book by best-selling US author and psychology professor Dan Ariely: everyone is capable of cheating. We all constantly seek the sweet spot where we can benefit from it without damaging our self image as reasonably honest individuals. Professor Ariely calls it ''the fudge factor''.

Dan Ariely (born April 29, 1968) is an Israeli American professor of psychology
and behavioral economics. He teaches at Duke University and is the founder
of The Center for Advanced Hindsight“The Honest Truth about Dishonesty” 

With an exhaustive series of experiments, Professor Ariely explores our amazing capacity for ''moral flexibility'' and the myriad ways we justify dishonest acts.

  • People will defy CCTV to steal - CCTV is only useful in assisting proprietors and police in identifying the "who, where and when" involving any offence that has occurred.
  • People are more likely to be deterred from cheating by a 'watchful eye' - a real person keeping a watch over their possible activities.
  • People wearing counterfeit labels cheated more than those attired authentically, and were more likely to assume others were behaving unethically.
  • People cheat more if they can put ''psychological distance'' between themselves and the action: for example surveyed golfers say it's much less morally troubling to cheat by moving the ball with a club than by hand.

We also cheat less if we have to sign up to a pledge of honour, Professor Ariely found.

Finally, bean counters take note: 

"workers are less likely to fudge their expenses if they have to sign their names at the top of the form instead of (or as well as) at the end."


North of Wiarton & South of the Checkerboard said...

Nasty business dishonesty is; last year with my Pickles for sale on the Honour system I was left $2 for an $8 jar & sure there have been more gone missing for naught. I suppose those needed more than I? Truly it is sad.

Susan Heather said...

Last week I took my button box to a lady who goes to great trouble sewing them onto cards for sale at our local Hospice Shop.

The finished product is a work of art with the buttons being artistically displayed on various types of card including gift cards.

She told me that when she took a previous supply into the Hospice Shop she had a look around the shop and then, on her way out, noticed the cards of buttons had all gone. She asked if they had sold them all only to be told that none had been sold - THEY HAD ALL BEEN STOLEN.

Apparently, they frequently find tags from clothes in the changing rooms. These are items that have all been donated in aid of our local Hospice, they are dirt cheap and yet there are scum out there that will stealthem.

JohnD said...

Neither comment above surprises me! I took a bunch of old craft tools to one of the Retirement Villages and on a subsequent visit most of them were 'gone'!!!!

LindaG said...

Sad, the moral decay everywhere. Why is what I'd like to know.
I don't think the 'we are all capable of doing dishonest things' explains it completely.

Have a great week, John!

JohnD said...

Linda - read John Birmingham's Leviathian, all about the First Fleet to Australia full of the dregs of London criminal world and the class divisions and you start to get an inkling - to no other colony were such vile scum shipped and for no other reason than to shift Britain's problem criminals from there to here! A vast prison far from home.

LindaG said...

I understand that Australia started as a prison colony. But we have the same decay here in the U.S.

Look at what happened during Katrina, and during any disaster, people steal whatever they want just because they can (not everyone, mind; but a sad lot do).

And people steal from donation boxes for Goodwill and Red Cross while dumping trash and not donations.

I'm sure there is more, but I can't think right now, sorry, haha.

Have a great evening, John.