Having selected the most inexpensive, yet presentable dresser he could find, he picked it out fully assembled, carried it to the checkout stand, and then proceeded to pay. As he reached the exit, the drawers began to open a bit. One of the drawers was loaded with a menagerie of stuffed toy animals.
He'd already paid for the dresser and figured he could high tail it out of the store with no one the wiser. But the temptation was momentary. He returned to the register and informed the clerk. The stuffed animals were removed and my best friend went on his cumbersome way, dresser in tow.
I was reminded of his find after listening to a recent episode of "This American Life," a weekly radio show produced by Chicago Public Media. The story was about a fellow who, after police returned his stolen car (after a surreal ordeal), found the trunk contained a chest full of expensive tools, a big ring of master keys that could open many cars, and other assorted goods the car thieves left behind. It was never reported whether the fellow returned the goods that clearly weren't his and that clearly had been used for illicit purposes.
"Shouldn't he have returned that stuff?" my wife, who was listening to the show with me, asked.
The fellow had already been through quite a bit, having at one point spotted his stolen car being driven by the thieves and tailing them while talking to a 911 operator until the crafty thieves eluded him. (Police caught them later that night.) Surely, he had been through enough and couldn't he construe that the unexpected deposit in his car's trunk made up a bit for his troubles?
Who would be the wiser if he just kept the stuff?
The legality of possessing sets of master keys to other people's cars aside, there's no ethical justification for the victim keeping the goods. Regardless of the fact that the police didn't discover the stolen objects in the car, the right thing would be for the fellow to contact the police and return anything in his car not owned by him.
If character is how we behave when no one is looking, then the "no one would be the wiser" justification holds no weight.
The car owner should return the tools, the keys, and the other contraband and be grateful that unlike some car theft victim,s his vehicle was returned at all - and intact, to boot.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.