Allow me to pose a question to you, readers. What do you call it when someone takes something without permission? Would you label that stealing? Suppose that the object in question is a bottle of water: is that stealing? Now suppose the object is an apple. A laptop. An engagement ring. Your engagement ring. Is there any difference between someone taking a bottle of water and someone taking your engagement ring?
The reason I’m asking these questions of you is because I’ve just had a conversation with someone who said some things that’ve spurred some indignant thoughts in me.
The conversation started normally enough (as normally as 3am conversations between a just-tipsy person and a sober one can be), with the first person talking about something and then starting to complain about two of his three other apartment roommates.
The first person–let’s somewhat randomly label him AG–mentions how he’s had enough of having to deal with his own roommate (our apartments are 4-person ones made of two doubles, and this is the second year we’re living here) and with my roommate. AG starts talking about how all he’s done for his roommate, about letting him use his meal swipes when that roommate’s hungry, and always letting him use things, and starts talking about how he was very mad about his roommate’s “stinginess”. I’ll skip a few of the details here, but as we’re talking, he’s very heated about the things he’s saying and I’m pointing out a few of his logical inconsistencies in the attempt to try to get him to see that some of the things he’s saying don’t really make much sense. Needless to say, that didn’t work too well.
So why did I mention stealing? The subject came up when AG mentioned that he thought that we apartment-mates should be “more like brothers” and just be able to “share” things. But it seems that AG and I have differing viewpoints about what constitutes “sharing”, and about where the line is between “sharing” and “stealing.” AG’s definition of “stealing”, when I asked him, is that it is “when someone takes something of -extreme- value from someone they know or don’t know.” So naturally I wanted to know what he called taking something of lower-than-extreme value from someone. His answer was “sharing.”
Let me be clear on my own views if I haven’t already: I believe that when anyone takes something–ANYTHING–from someone else without permission, then that counts as stealing, regardless of the value of the object in question. So I’d believe that stealing a pet rock and stealing a gold necklace are both theft. I don’t mean that a pet rock and a gold necklace are necessarily of the same value, but that I consider the action perpetrated–that of theft–to be the same regardless of the items.
Apparently there’s a discrepancy between AG’s view and mine, though, because he believes that there’s a huge difference between taking (for example) an apple from someone and taking a laptop, and that the difference is that the case with the apple is “sharing items of sustenance” and that the case with the laptop might count as stealing. At one point, I ask about his earlier definition of “stealing”, in which he’d said the term “stealing” only applied to “items of extreme value”. My point was that knowing what counted as “extremely valuable” was a very subjective thing. AG’s thoughts were that it was not selfish of him to use his own views of value as the deciding point for whether or not something was “extremely valuable.” And the conversation went on like that for a bit. Through our conversation, the one point in which I was dead set on was my view of theft, and it was the fact that AG so adamantly insisted on something that to me doesn’t make sense that inspired me to write this.
One might be able to shrug off what AG said during our conversation as the kinds of things a (just) tipsy person might spout, but I don’t think what he was saying was random. He was definitely telling me his view of the way certain things worked, and that’s all the more worrisome.
I’m a bit curious if after he gets up in the morning he would still say what he said earlier, but I think he would. And therein lies an issue that’s larger in scope than just the small example I’ve written about above. If no one makes room to question their own beliefs and take other well-reasoned arguments into account, then how can people hope to live in peaceful coexistence? If such conflicts among four college students living together can’t be confronted and resolved, how can any larger issues possibly be fixed? It’s good to be confident, but I at least think it’s arrogant, to say the least, to assume that fault always lies with someone else.
As always, I believe that the problem stems from individual people, but I can’t think of much of a way to “fix” things other than by understanding that we’re fallible, accepting our own faults, taking in well-meant critiques, making an effort to improve, and then passing on the favor to others.
AG had said he was seriously considering just commuting next year instead of having to deal with “these kinds of people”, but those “kinds of people” were not exactly as the way he insisted they were. Right now, I feel like the best holiday gift I can give to him is some way to change his view of the world so that he doesn’t need to let the things that don’t matter cause him grief, and to let him know that each of us, and only us, determines what’s important to us anyway. But at this point, Santa’s more likely to just give the lot of us a big sack of coal.
Feels like it’s been a long time since I had any inclination to write so much. Good to know I can still be indignant.
One more day of finals, and then the whole break to figure out and fix what’s been wacky on my end of the life spectrum.