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Thread: The Morality of Petty Theft

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    Bureaucratically Efficient Senior Member TinCow's Avatar
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    Default The Morality of Petty Theft

    I'm pissed off.

    I share a large office with three other people, a kind of mini cubicle-farm. Our cleaning and janitorial services are provided through Goodwill, and most (I believe) of the cleaners are from halfway homes for one reason or another.

    This afternoon, I was listening to a podcast while sorting through a large case. A new cleaning lady that I had never seen before showed up and asked if I wanted my cubicle cleaned. I said yes, detached my headphones and put them on my desk, stuffed my iphone into my pocket, and went to talk to a friend in a different office while the cleaning was being done. When I came back, the desk had been cleaned and the headphones were gone. I searched the entire office from top to bottom, twice, but they weren't there. I found the cleaning lady and asked her if she had seen them when she was cleaning, or perhaps moved them. She denied having any knowledge of them.

    I very strongly believe that the cleaning lady stole my headphones. There is no other explanation for their disappearance. At the same time, I am very frustrated because I feel like reporting this is the wrong thing to do. I feel like I'm living a cliche. The headphones were just the stock white ones that come with an iphone; they cost $30 from Apple. On a material level, the headphones mean nothing to me. I'm a highly-paid white male attorney... I'm pretty much the living embodiment of 'privilege' in our society. In contrast, the cleaning lady is clearly an impoverished minority with little education.

    I've thought about what would happen if I reported this. I'm not likely to get my headphones back no matter what; if she did steal them, she won't ever admit to it. So, this is really just a decision of whether or not to report her and possibly get her fired from her job (three weeks before Christmas). Even though I feel very strongly that she did indeed steal my headphones, there's always a possibility that there's some innocent explanation for their disappearance. Maybe they got knocked off my desk into some random crevice where I just can't find them, or something like that. I give that option a 5% chance of being true. However, if I report this, that's a 5% chance that she's going to get fired for the accidental loss of a $30 set of headphones, right before Christmas. At the same time, even if she did steal them, it's just $30 out of my pocket and she could lose her job. I feel like I would be a something of a monster to pursue action against her given the extreme disparity in the respective importance of the event.

    So, I've decided not going to report her. However, and this is the point of my post, I feel angry at this situation. Somehow, it seems to me that this woman stole from me, and yet I've ended up feeling guilty about it. How did that happen? Why did it happen? Is this some kind of personal guilt-complex about our disparate socio/economic backgrounds? Am I wrong to feel this way, or is this natural? Am I helping society as a whole by not causing major problems for this woman, or am I hurting it by letting a thief go unpunished?

    (Posting this in the Backroom, as I believe this topic essentially boils down to some potentially controversial economic and social issues.)


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    Old Town Road Senior Member Strike For The South's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Stealing someone elses property is morally wrong, so you shouldn't feel upset about that.

    I think you feel bad because society at large tells you to feel bad for those less fortunate, which isn't necesarilly a bad thing as most of us are few unfortunate circumstances away from a postion not unlike hers. Not to mention a lack of fiscal means has no correlation with the moral goodness of a person (as I'm sure you know but is oft forgotten)

    In your position I probably wouldn't have reported her either, but I certianly wouldn't feel bad or guilty about it. I would also watch her like a hawk and nail her if this becomes a repeating pattern

    Humilty is a wonderful viture to have, knowing that you are not an all powerful being over others is something this country could use more of but this does not mean she can go around all handsy. If she's willing to steal 1 30$ pair of headphones she is probably willing to steal something else and soon.

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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    At the risk of getting another warning: you're an idiot.

    If you report them missing they can look for them. It's not accusing anyone, but pointing out the temporal relationship when they disappeared.

    But if you'd rather apologise for existing, then why not leave your watch / ipod / laptop around next time they're cleaning? You'd be breaking the cycle of crime and poverty by ensuring that crime pays...



    I didn't issue a warning as per TC's request. You could have skipped the shot though.
    Last edited by Seamus Fermanagh; 12-07-2010 at 04:27.
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    I think it's good to feel bad enough about getting someone fired right before Christmas that you don't say anything. I don't see why that would have to be some kind of sociological guilt complex either. It's good to have an aversion to petty things, and so I think it's natural to avoid that situation.

    Essentially, reporting it is not wrong in the sense of unjust, but wrong because it's wrong to not be somewhat disgusted by the idea of making a fuss and getting someone fired over it. There's no way you should feel guilty about it though--you're just being a good person, which tends to involve a little bit of being taken advantage of by the immoral.
    Last edited by Sasaki Kojiro; 12-06-2010 at 22:05.

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    Old Town Road Senior Member Strike For The South's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    At the risk of getting another warning: you're an idiot.

    If you report them missing they can look for them. It's not accusing anyone, but pointing out the temporal relationship when they disappeared.

    But if you'd rather apologise for existing, then why not leave your watch / ipod / laptop around next time they're cleaning? You'd be breaking the cycle of crime and poverty by ensuring that crime pays...

    It was a pair of headphones

    Crime certainly doesn't pay in this scenario, crime probably won't even play music in another 3 months

    Sure he could report them lost but then he has to deal with "Bro they were headphones" from all his coleagues (whom I'm sure would assume TC is either the cheapest man alive or has an ulterior motive at that point)
    There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford

    My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.

    I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.

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    Bureaucratically Efficient Senior Member TinCow's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    At the risk of getting another warning: you're an idiot.
    Hopefully no warning is forthcoming, as this pretty much states in simple terms, half of my conflict. My anger about this is because I feel like I'm being taken advantage of due to (ironically) my own advantageous situation... I'm letting myself be a door mat simply because it doesn't really matter to me. And yet I just can't overcome the feeling that it's not worth it for me to pursue this.

    If you report them missing they can look for them. It's not accusing anyone, but pointing out the temporal relationship when they disappeared.
    It doesn't work like that, because in order to report the events, I have to say that they went missing right after the cleaning lady was in my office. There is no way to report the event without accusing her, even if I don't name her specifically, because she's the only cleaning lady on our floor today. If I omit the reference the the cleaning lady, I might as well just say I lost them in the bathroom or something, it defeats the whole purpose. It's kind of an all or nothing situation. I accuse her or I don't.


    I will heed your request this time and not issue a warning.
    Last edited by Seamus Fermanagh; 12-07-2010 at 04:26.


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    Mr Self Important Senior Member Beskar's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Moral of the story, she shouldn't have stole headphones and broken the trust you had in her.
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    Hope guides me Senior Member Hosakawa Tito's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    How many people have access to that cubicle? Was there any time lapse between when the cleaning lady finished and left and your return to that cubicle? Could the headphones have been accidently knocked into the waste basket and then thrown out with the trash? Ask around the office and see if other items have gone missing.
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    Bureaucratically Efficient Senior Member TinCow's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Hosakawa Tito View Post
    How many people have access to that cubicle? Was there any time lapse between when the cleaning lady finished and left and your return to that cubicle? Could the headphones have been accidently knocked into the waste basket and then thrown out with the trash? Ask around the office and see if other items have gone missing.
    No one else was in the room except myself, two other attorneys (who share the office with me), and the cleaning lady. The other attorneys (both friends of mine) definitely did not take them. The headphones were not knocked into the trash, I checked thoroughly. The timespan between me leaving the cubicle with them there and me returning to find them gone was about 5 minutes; I never left the room, I just went over to another cubicle and was chatting with that attorney about movies. There's really only two explanations: she stole them or she misplaced them while cleaning. I scoured the place without finding them, which seems to remove the latter as an option. No other items went missing in the office; the other attorneys checked their spaces thoroughly after I started a major WTF rant. A mini-version of this thread conversation occurred in our room after this event, so they're well aware of it.


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    the G-Diffuser Senior Member pevergreen's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Next time, leave something else that a person may steal out in the open, if she takes it again, lodge formal complaint.

    Your firm shouldn't have to deal with a cleaner that thinks its ok to steal stuff from their employees.
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    Member Megas Methuselah's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Strike For The South View Post
    In your position I probably wouldn't have reported her either, but I certianly wouldn't feel bad or guilty about it. I would also watch her like a hawk and nail her if this becomes a repeating pattern
    And when you catch her, use that to take advantage of her. Must be a looker is she's worthy of a hawk-stare, eh?

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    Hope guides me Senior Member Hosakawa Tito's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by TinCow View Post
    No one else was in the room except myself, two other attorneys (who share the office with me), and the cleaning lady. The other attorneys (both friends of mine) definitely did not take them. The headphones were not knocked into the trash, I checked thoroughly. The timespan between me leaving the cubicle with them there and me returning to find them gone was about 5 minutes; I never left the room, I just went over to another cubicle and was chatting with that attorney about movies. There's really only two explanations: she stole them or she misplaced them while cleaning. I scoured the place without finding them, which seems to remove the latter as an option. No other items went missing in the office; the other attorneys checked their spaces thoroughly after I started a major WTF rant. A mini-version of this thread conversation occurred in our room after this event, so they're well aware of it.
    I'd file a complaint then and ask for a different cleaning person.
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    has a Senior Member HoreTore's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    I've been in a similar situation, though in my case it was a recently hired co-worker, and the person wasn't poor or a refugee or anything like that.

    I decided to give the person a second chance, while at the same time, I let the person know that I knew. Basically I came to the conclusion that I just didn't care enough.
    Still maintain that crying on the pitch should warrant a 3 match ban

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    BrownWings: AirViceMarshall Senior Member Furunculus's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by rory_20_uk View Post
    At the risk of getting another warning: you're an idiot.

    If you report them missing they can look for them. It's not accusing anyone, but pointing out the temporal relationship when they disappeared.

    But if you'd rather apologise for existing, then why not leave your watch / ipod / laptop around next time they're cleaning? You'd be breaking the cycle of crime and poverty by ensuring that crime pays...



    I didn't issue a warning as per TC's request. You could have skipped the shot though.
    i'm with rory here.

    stealing/damaging other peoples property is a rage-inducing act as far as i am concerned.
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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Furunculus View Post
    i'm with rory here.

    stealing/damaging other peoples property is a rage-inducing act as far as i am concerned.
    As one shopkeeper said to the other.

    That said, being the victim of theft etc is aggravating, but you'd want to be doubly sure they were stolen by the individual in question, right?

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    BrownWings: AirViceMarshall Senior Member Furunculus's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    sure, but report it, don't ignore it.
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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Furunculus View Post
    sure, but report it, don't ignore it.
    Report the fact that they are missing, not that they have been stolen. There's a fine line between declaring theft and a spontaneous congregation of pitchfork enthusiasts.

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    Liar and Trickster Senior Member Andres's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Your colleagues are greedy lawyers; it has to be one of them. And he who did it, knows you were going to blame it on the cleaning lady, so there was no risk whatsoever to steal your headphones. Steal something back from their desks next week

    Meh, if you're 100 % sure that the cleaning lady did it, but you would feel bad to report it, because of Christmas and you being a good person, then why don't do something completely unexpected: give her a Christmas present: an i-phone with headphones.

    Before you all start thinking I'm a saint: I would first have thoroughly looked everywhere in the office, even at my colleagues' desks. If no headphone, I would have talked to the lady. I would have told her I would report it, to see if she would admit it and give back the headphones. And I would have actually reported it, even if she would have given the headphones back. Regardless of social background: you don't steal. It doesn't matter if the thief is a highly-paid lawyer or the cleaning lady. I have a pretty modest background myself. My grandfather was poor and my father grew up in poverty the first 10 years of his youth. They didn't steal. My grandfather worked hard, every day, and he himself (not his wife and children!) ate dry bread most of the time, so he could save money to buy a house. Even for the smallest lie, my grandfather would get upset and would punish me. He had a house, two pieces of land, a decent amount of savings and no debts whatsoever at his dead. Being poor doesn't mean you have to steal. As far as I'm concerned, the sole fact that a person is poor, doesn't gain my sympathy. The attitude of people who are proud and decent while being poor, that's something that makes me bow my head in deep respect. But that's just me.

    But maybe giving her an i-phone for Christmas instead of reporting it will have better results to change her attitude in life. Personally, I believe in the harsh approach, not the soft one.

    Last edited by Andres; 12-07-2010 at 14:21.
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    TexMec Senior Member Louis VI the Fat's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    The proper legal course of action to take is straightforward.


    For $8950 I'll advice you about it. Mind that's $8950 an hour. If you pay, you get your $30 headphones back. If you don't pay, we'll then you just got legally robbed of $30 and there's nothing you can do about it.
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    BrownWings: AirViceMarshall Senior Member Furunculus's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by alh_p View Post
    Report the fact that they are missing, not that they have been stolen. There's a fine line between declaring theft and a spontaneous congregation of pitchfork enthusiasts.
    ah, i see, report it missing, explaining how there is no reason you can think of for it not to be exactly where you left it; on your desk.
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    Ranting madman of the .org Senior Member Fly Shoot Champion, Helicopter Champion, Pedestrian Killer Champion, Sharpshooter Champion, NFS Underground Champion Rhyfelwyr's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    I would just let it go. But if anything happens again just let her know that you know. If I was very well off I would feel very bad risking that person losing their job.

    Yes theft is bad but **** happens and people need to get over it, how can you feel bad for long when you walk back into your luxury house. It's just not worth it.
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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    I find that a better system would be to give part of my earnings for a safety net as opposed to having things taken which then might be resold. I think that is called... taxes and they take over 30% of my salary.

    I'm sorry this is not somehow "proactive charity" where those who want to receive just help themselves.

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    Liar and Trickster Senior Member Andres's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyfelwyr View Post
    I would just let it go. But if anything happens again just let her know that you know. If I was very well off I would feel very bad risking that person losing their job.

    Yes theft is bad but **** happens and people need to get over it, how can you feel bad for long when you walk back into your luxury house. It's just not worth it.
    So, if TinCow would be a guy with a crappy job in a fastfood restaurant, it would be ok to report it and see the cleaning lady be fired before Christmas?

    Everybody has the right to get fired if he's stealing on his workplace. Not reporting the cleaning lady is clearly a case of discrimination. Would you think twice if it was your co-worker - wellpaid lawyer who did it? It's also a case of condescendingly looking down on the lower classes. "Pfuh, it's just the lower than low cleaning lady. I'm not going to report such a person. That's far below my own status. It's only 30 $; she has to work half a day for that kind of money, me only 5 minutes."

    All kidding aside, I'm more and more with rory on this one. I think this is a case of a completely misplaced feeling of guilt.

    This should be a no-brainer: thief -> report.

    How would you feel if the day before Christmas the cleaning lady would steal something else from one of your colleagues, let's say a watch they got from their fiancée for Valentine's day? Or their wedding wring they put off for a sec for whatever reason.
    Last edited by Andres; 12-07-2010 at 16:22.
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    has a Senior Member HoreTore's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Andres View Post
    How would you feel if the day before Christmas the cleaning lady would steal something else from one of your colleagues, let's say a watch they got from their fiancée for Valentine's day? Or their wedding wring they put off for a sec for whatever reason.
    What if it was a half-empty soda bottle?
    Still maintain that crying on the pitch should warrant a 3 match ban

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    Liar and Trickster Senior Member Andres's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by HoreTore View Post
    What if it was a half-empty soda bottle?
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Andres View Post
    No, it's a serious question... And a relevant one too, soda bottles and similar stuff have a tendency to "get lost" on quite a few workplaces....

    But I take your rolling eyes to mean that you wouldn't report a stolen soda bottle? If so, you've drawn a line between what can be tolerated and what can't, and then it isn't that absurd to draw the line a few bucks up the line, is it?
    Still maintain that crying on the pitch should warrant a 3 match ban

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    Liar and Trickster Senior Member Andres's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    The bottle is half full, not half empty, you negativist.

    If a soda bottle would have disappeared, I wouldn't think it was stolen. Maybe somebody was thirsty. Then again, we have free drinks here at work, which probably explains why I don't see that as stealing
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    pardon my klatchian Member al Roumi's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Furunculus View Post
    ah, i see, report it missing, explaining how there is no reason you can think of for it not to be exactly where you left it; on your desk.
    Yes. That way you have stated no-more than you actually know to be fact. The accusation of theft immediately implies wrong-doing which, unless you can prove, you have no right to go spreading.

    I would say that a neutral message put around the office saying "have you seen a pair of white headphones, last seen [here] at [this] time, please return to me if you find them -thanks!", would be the way to go. That way if they were stolen, a) the culprit will know they are missed (and should feel a dollop of guilt); b) the cuplrit will be less confident of repeating the feat if they know missing items are reported so widely each time. And importantly, you won't have launched into a morale eroding clamp-down, only for the headphones to turn up.

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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by Andres View Post
    The bottle is half full, not half empty, you negativist.
    Hah, that actually made me laugh out loud

    Quote Originally Posted by Andres View Post
    If a soda bottle would have disappeared, I wouldn't think it was stolen. Maybe somebody was thirsty. Then again, we have free drinks here at work, which probably explains why I don't see that as stealing
    Maybe somebody was thirsty? But isn't taking your soda because they're thirsty theft?

    Is there a difference between taking another persons soda because you're thirsty any different to, say, stealing some cheap stuff to give to your kid for christmas because you can't afford a present?



    Oh, and stop teasing the rest of us with your workers paradise full of free soft drinks!! The rest of us only get coffee, and you know it.
    Still maintain that crying on the pitch should warrant a 3 match ban

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    Liar and Trickster Senior Member Andres's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Morality of Petty Theft

    Quote Originally Posted by HoreTore View Post
    Maybe somebody was thirsty? But isn't taking your soda because they're thirsty theft?

    Is there a difference between taking another persons soda because you're thirsty any different to, say, stealing some cheap stuff to give to your kid for christmas because you can't afford a present?
    Yes, you have a point. But this is the BR, so I won't admit it.

    Quote Originally Posted by HoreTore
    Oh, and stop teasing the rest of us with your workers paradise full of free soft drinks!! The rest of us only get coffee, and you know it.
    We can chose between regular coffee, cappucino and espresso.

    /runs
    Andres is our Lord and Master and could strike us down with thunderbolts or beer cans at any time. ~Askthepizzaguy

    Ja mata, TosaInu

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