Quora.com is a source of all sorts of unusual questions and responses. I've been reading them the past few weeks, and so far, they've covered everything from near-death experiences to travel tips. But their latest caught me more than a little offguard:
What are some unethical life hacks?
Wait a minute. Is Quora encouraging us to cheat, swipe and lie...as long as we don't get caught?
Responses to the question include everything from stealing extra packets of sauce at fast food restaurants, to wangling your way inside airlines' first-class clubs, so you can drink as much liquor as possible.
Or do it even easier, say the 'experts,' by showing up in workman's clothes at a fancy party -- the people will assume you're there to Fix Something, and would never bar the door. (Hmmm. What would they think to see their 'plumber' throwing down a glass of champagne? I keep thinking of the Trading Places New Year's Eve costume party on the train, crashed by two of the baggage handlers. "Uh, I came as a baggage handler," one says, as he grabs some chips. "Imagine my surprise when I found out someone else had the same costume," says the other, as he helps himself to liquor.)
It's all too easy to take home the pen from work, or slide off with something you're not supposed to have. But 'easy' does not equal 'right.'
I don't believe in the 'if no one says anything' rule, either. One much-loved uncle thought nothing of clearing off extra sugar, salt & pepper packets off his restaurant table, on the theory that he'd paid for everything there by just ordering something. No waitperson ever stopped him...though I'd bet they discussed his actions back in the kitchen.
Some guidelines help me to control the urge to be TOO cheap about all this:
*Has it already been discarded? Dumpster diving items just means you're rescuing them from clogging up the landfill. If not --
*Have you asked permission to take it? A polite question is often politely answered. Imagine how much more embarrassing it would be to assume that item is free and walk out the door with it, only to be stopped. I learned this the hard way once, with a backpack leaned up against a garbage can. It contained such goodies as an expensive camera -- owned by the college student who rushed out of the house to intercept me when I picked his backpack up. I still think he was foolish to leave it out there -- but that didn't stop my face from turning red.
If not --
*Has it been offered to you? Ask, if you're not sure. (Be polite.) But also consider --
*Offer some kind of payment. It doesn't have to be money: a swap of your time, a ride or errand offered, or a useful item can be all the payment needed. Besides, you're better off if you --
*Take what's needed -- not all there is. A few salsa verde packets at Taco Bell, versus a handful. A couple strips of bacon at the buffet, instead of the entire plate. (Don't laugh. I've seen this happen.) One refill at the pop machine -- but not three or four. (Even worse -- surreptitiously grabbing soda, when you got a cup for free water, instead.) And --
*Don't take it, if you can't put it to good use. By grabbing items that don't fit, are too bulky or don't coordinate, you are depriving them from someone who really needs them. (This is especially difficult for me...the Hollander blood really kicks in. The only exception I can validate: if that item is needed by a family member or friend -- and can be quickly passed on to someone else.)
Can you look in the mirror that night, with no regrets about your actions? Not be embarrassed if someone questions you? Feel proud that you were able to reuse, revamp or repurpose something others would have thrown out? Have you paid your own way, both literally and figuratively?
Then you did the right thing.
Take a look at the Quora question that inspired all this--
Prepare to gag.