How Newspaper Boxes Lead to Moral Choices

Earlier today I went to purchase the Sunday paper at my local neighborhood grocery store’s newspaper vending machine.  Both the Sunday Modesto Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle charge 50 cents  for their daily and $1.50 for their Sunday edition.  My wife and I were out for a Sunday breakfast and we are staying at our second home near Yosemite and I wanted one of the Sunday papers.  So we gathered our six quarters and I braved the 35 degree temperature and plugged the quarters into the machine.  

And…..the door wouldn’t open.  So I released the coins and tried again.  Nothing.  I moved the next machine, and the same thing.  After about a half-dozen tries I quit.  While eating breakfast at the restaurant above the little store front, my wife and I watched about five or six other people attempt to purchase their Sunday newspaper.  And they all had the same result.  I commented to my wife that maybe the delivery person simply didn’t flip the internal switch between daily and Sunday the machine wasn’t mechanical enough to accept more coins then necessary.  She didn’t believe my theory but accepted it as reasonable.

After breakfast we needed to fuel our car so we drove the 5 miles to the local gas statin and mini mart believing they would have a paper.  When we arrived we noticed that some of the people who had attempted to purchase papers at the grocery store were also at the gas station (newspaper readers are dedicated).  And….the same result.  The machine wouldn’t accept our six quarters.  

I went inside the mini mart and inquired and was told to try two quarters.  I chuckled and went outside and yep,  two quarters worked.  There was a full stack of Sunday Modesto Bee’s there for the taking and for only 50 cents.  What about the remaining dollar?

I placed my four quarters inside the machine as that would hopefully be both fair and a symbol of the best decision.  I told the two people that were next to me what I did and one guy said the machine already had his $1.50 so he took his paper and the other guy followed me into the store to ask about the dollar.

Now the fun part.  The guy behind the counter told the gentleman to keep his dollar.  That if  the buyer gave the clerk the dollar, the clerk would keep it.  That the clerk/store didn’t pay for the papers and therefore the guy should keep his money.  The guy said that wasn’t fair  or right.  I agreed and piped in with what I did and the guy decided to follow my lead and leave his money inside the machine.

So, what is the right action?  I think this is a big question and and important one too.  Essentially, is it right or just to take advantage of a newspaper delivery person that clearly failed to flip switches and adjust the machine?  How should the clerk have reacted?  What lessons are  we leave with our children, our loved ones, and our community by our actions?

My wife essentially  sees nothing wrong with paying only the amount necessary to open the machine.  I challenged her about it.  I said what is the difference between taking advantage of the newspaper machine and say a Wall Street tycoon that swindles people out of millions?  Other than the amount involved aren’t the two actions similar?  I think they are.  

If we allow, promote, support, or turn a blind eye to small wrongs, how do we become indignant when business, governments, and foundations take advantage and cheat others?  We have to start somewhere and we need to be responsible for our own actions.

These same people that would easily take advantage of the malfunctioning machine would probably never steal a dollar’s worth from a store, or a blind person, or the Salvation Army Bell Ringer.  Yet from the machine, or the McDonald’s clerk, or similar the conscious somehow makes a difference and allows the action to continue.

Why?  Maybe we have lost our way in the small ways so much that we tune it out unless millions or billions are involved and then we want justice.  But justice for whom?  When the choices over  nickels, dimes, and quarters are ignored, is it any wonder we promote the wrong over the right?  The inaction over action? 

The choices we make matter.  What is your choice?

As my dear (and late) friend Paul O’Bryne was fond of saying:  “Think about it”