A Handful of Mints: Whatever Happened to Right and Wrong?

I saw a disturbing thing at a local restaurant the other day.

This restaurant is one of my favorites...and one of my favorite things to do there is to draw an individually-wrapped mint from a statue monkey's stone bowl on my way out and let it "melt in my mouth" on the way home.

Here's the disturbing event.

While waiting for a table on a recent night, a man entering the restaurant grabbed a handful of mints from the monkey's bowl on his way into the restaurant and stuffed them into his pocket. 

Then after he'd been seated, he came back to ask the hostess a question.  On his way back to the table, the man cleaned out the rest of the monkey's bowl.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I wanted to send up a flare or shout "Thief!" or call the police.  But it was only mints.  And they were, after all, free.

But, oh.  That man made me so mad.  The presumption!  The gall!  The lack of care for the rest of us!  (You've probably guessed that I didn't get my usual mint on the way out of the restaurant that night.)

Right and wrong seem so blurry for so many these days.  Yes, technically, those mints were free, but what was that man going to do with all of them?  Either he had some REALLY bad breath, or he simply didn't believe that what he was doing was wrong. The mints were there, so he took them.

There are many other examples out there besides our local mint thief, though.  How about Bernie Madoff or athletes who take performance enhancing drugs, not to mention our current economic distress?  Reading the news, you get the sense that lots of folks these days don't understand the difference between right and wrong.  Or if they do understand it, they simply don't care if what they're doing is wrong.

What is happening to us as a society?  Whatever happened to our sense of right and wrong?  Have we really forgotten (or never learned) how to act with kindness, respect, responsibility? (Oh dear.  Am I really sounding like my parents, nay, my grandparents?)

In the midst of all the negative, where-are-we-going-as-a-society? news, I ran across a story about a woman who returned a library book 31 years and 1 month late.

On March 16, 1978, 39 year old Sarah McKee checked out Alvin Josephy's The Patriot Chiefs from the Arlington Virginia Library. The book was due April 5 (of 1978).

"This month -- three decades, one career, five presidents, three relocations, seven grandchildren and thousands of books later -- McKee happened to open "The Patriot Chiefs," spotted the library card in the pocket and thought: "Drat."

"And so May 5 (2009)-- 31 years and one month overdue -- it arrived back at Arlington Library with a note of apology and a check for $25.  "To my great embarrassment," the note said, "I recently opened this book and discovered it is yours -- not mine. My apologies for my tardiness."  (For the full, and very entertaining article, see  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/10/AR2009051002045.html?referrer=emailarticle )

Ms. McKee understands the difference between right and wrong! What does she have that so many of the rest of we human beings seem to lack?  How can we learn to make the right decisions in life as easily as Ms. McKee seemed to make her's?

Each week in this blog, I'll be looking at how to live well, even how to live faithfully in the real world.  I invite you to join me in exploring "Spirituality for Real Life."

Peace, friends.