Sunday, August 9, 2009

Finders keepers, losers weepers

Here I go. This post is loaded, and I'm not even going to make it into the broader topic. There's been something I wanted to post about floating around in my head for a few months, that Sarah touched on the other day and first off, and Cincinati Chile hit the nail on the head with her comment in that thread:
(Viewpoint of a Chilean, and I have observed the same) "The culture in Chile is that if you are dumb enough to leave your stuff unattended then it's my right to take it. It's the person's fault for leaving their stuff out in the open. I don't get this in the US. I think if people steal stuff they know that they are making a choice to do so and don't put any blame on the person they are stealing from or think that they are stupid."

In Chile, I get the impression its always the victim's fault for not being smart enough to avoid being a victim, and sometimes people similarly justify their "right" in taking advantage of others this way.

However, I feel like people look at the problem the wrong way. I see this throughout many areas of society. On Friday on the way to work, an elderly couple got out of the car and the lady that took their place exclaimed it was "sad," and "bad judgement" of them, to go out in town without someone younger to accompany them because they would get robbed for being old and frail. Shouldn't this be looked at from the angle that it is "sad" and "bad judgement" to steal from the elderly?

Well the case that's been on my mind for a few months is specifically the "finders keepers?" lost wallet dilemma. I know in general, in Chilean society, the majority of people would probably be thinking along the lines... "if you were misfortunate (or dumb) enough to lose your wallet, it's mine to take." As nothing is ever so black and white, I had wrongly assumed that many of the people I knew here, based on my assumption that I have honest friends, wouldn't necessarily fall into the majority. I was disgusted to realize my boyfriend wouldn't have necessarily done what I personally consider the "right thing" in a moral sense, at least without an internal dilemma between right and wrong (which, might now consist of something like "I feel temped to the the wrong thing, but on the other hand... my girlfriend will be pissssed!")

For a while I've been collecting a file of articles, mental tidbits, and personal examples revolving around the concept of the "lost wallet." The majority involve the US and Canada and some non-scientific studies.  Sometimes I identify a lot with Canada and the Canadian people, from what I know and those I've met, partially because I think culture-wise, Minnesota is at times more similar to Canada than, for example, the Southern US. In many articles, the sample sizes are too low to be significant, but individual circumstances and small group examples are worthy of making a statement too.

[Side anecdote- To put the Chilean point of view into perspective on the issue of what to do with/or expect from a lost wallet, I tried to add my own Chilean significant other's comments to expand upon this for a bit, but unfortunately, I only managed to pry my boyfriend away from Hillary Duff's "A Cinderella Story" to get the following, in-depth, insight into the chilean point of view... "lo devuelvan sin la plata." (they return it without the money)... and at the commercial break he followed up with... "porque son pillos, po." (because they're cunning)    ....Thanks a ton]

The case that brought everything to my attention was that one of our closest friends found a wallet full of cash, photos, credit cards, etc... in the plaza. This friend is one of the people I trust most in this country, we've left him our house keys at times when we go out of town. But upon finding this wallet, he kept all the money, but returned the wallet itself. I found this appalling- he was easily able to find out who this lady was and return everything to her, leaving the choice of a reward up to her alone (I'll get into rewards in a follow up post, I'm dead tired). He and his friends argued that stealing the money and giving the wallet back was the best you could expect of a person, and giving back the wallet intact wasn't even a reasonable option (because, well if he didn't steal it someone else would, or that the fact that they lost it makes it no longer theirs).

In general, Gallup discovered that Chileans suggested they would expect their neighbors(54%) or police(56%) to return their lost wallet intact, but not a stranger(%7). (Not to mention I feel like the concept of neighbor is different enough from Minnesota to Chile that I imagine Chileans are counting many people I'd call "neighbors" in their "stranger" category.)
When actually put to the test, Latin American countries didn't do so well... Argentina had 44% returned, Mexico 21%.

In this BBC news piece a woman lost a winning lottery ticket and a couple found it on the floor, what was to happen? The article has a decent summary of both some legal and moral reasoning.
"While losers may no longer have physical possession of an item, they still retain legal entitlement to it. Therefore, in England and Wales, as well as in most other countries across the world, the onus is on the finder to take what the law describes as "reasonable steps" to track down the loser." I think this is what is morally right- that people should have the right to their things if that is possible, though of course little tiny things like coins or untraceable items might stay in the possession of the finder as there is no reasonable way to track down the owner.

Thats why the wallet example really heats my blood. You KNOW who lost it. You KNOW whose property it is (or was, if you consider it as such). And regardless of the tense of the previous statement, you can pretty easily assume that that person is worried, missing it, unhappy, and possibly in a lot of trouble without it. Morally, either way I think it should be returned. I think people should follow the Golden Rule, said in one of a zillion ways: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Everybody would prefer to not lose their wallet, and therefor regain full possession of it if that were to happen.

I think the most interesting news piece on a study I read was this one by Readers Digest. 120 wallets were dropped across Canada, with $50, an ID, some pictures, etc... I like the article because the interview some of the people who returned the wallets, both those that were intact or not, catching some of them in their lies, and reporting both the positive and negative about the people observed. However, the positive far outweighed the negative.
Many of the quotes said by the wallet returnees said something along the lines of morals or upbringing.

"It's because of my mother. She taught us never to even consider keeping anything that did not belong to us."
"A wallet is private property... If everyone started taking advantage of others, society would be in chaos."
"God sees everything.
(And a funny one when a lawyer made a big deal out of returning it intact) "See? there is such a thing as an honest lawyer."
"I'd never have taken anyone else's money -- they might be worse off than I am."

Overall, Reader's Digest found that 77/120 (64%) were returned intact. In similar studies of other countries, the US scored in at 67% returned intact, Europe 58%, Asia 57%, 73% of women, 56% of men. Small towns were no better than the national average. Yet young people were not as honest as the rest.

I think one big factor is money. Everyone wonders how that comes in to play, and how that could skew (or excuse) behavior in Chile. Reader's Digest did mention that there is a link between economic crisis and a rise in crime, and higher rates of inflation likewise had more crimes with the intent of financial gain. However, I still think in general, until the situation becomes life and death, the moral issue should come into play first and foremost. In Chile, for the most part, I think people are less concerned about the way their actions affect others. If you read blogs about Chile you'll have long ago noticed this recurring theme from people's indifference to holding up an ambulance, driving and sidewalk habits, etc.. I feel like the Golden Rule doesn't hold as much weight here. People expect to get taken advantage of, people expect to not come out ahead in the face of misfortune, and therefore also feel less guilty and more "in the right" when they are faced with the dilemma of whether to take advantage of someone else.

However, when good morals (or cultural expectations, and other influencing factors) are installed, temptations can often be overcome, Reader's Digest followed up with a touching story of good Samaritan actions despite hardship during the depression.

Not to mention this great example of one of the guys who found the test wallet:
"In Saskatoon Brian Toothill, 36, restored our faith in our fellow-man. Unemployed, he gets by on welfare and the $20 or so a week he scrapes together by redeeming discarded bottles and tin cans. He was going through garbage cans when he spotted our wallet in a telephone booth at a bus stop on 23rd Street East. 'When you are honest, life pays you back.'"

I love this attitude.

Remember the lost and found lottery ticket? The "loser" won.
The courts sided with the woman, saying "It is important for the public to know that 'Finders keepers, losers weepers' is not true and never was true."




11 COMMENTS:

Mamacita Chilena said...
Fantastic post Lydia. I tend to link everything in Chile back to the trust issue so I was wondering while I read this -- Do people not return wallets here because they are so mistrusting they assume that no one would do the same for them? But then it's sort of like asking about the chicken or the egg. What came first -- dishonest people being that way because of mistrust, or people mistrusting because of dishonest people.
lydia said...
hahah... so true...one of THOSE questions ;-) I dunno if they're literally worried that "what goes around comes around," as in, it will happen to them, but I think they're aware of the general workings of things and therefore feel excused to participate in the same negative way as they perceive everyone else to. Being honest in this scenario doesn't seem to be the norm, nor is taking the money a guilt-causing decision, and they think they'd be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity.
Cincinnati Chile said...
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Cincinnati Chile said...
(sorry had a type-o that I corrected so posting again) Very cool post. You have spent a lot of time collecting info and thinking about this and I'm impressed. :) I can't take credit for the comment though as it came from my Chilean husband. I love these posts through gringa eyes because it gives me insight into the culture that I don't experience as I don't live there. I get little things here and there by visiting but nothing like living there. These posts often spark dialogue between S and I and he usually has an answer or really good insight. He is heady that way. My next comment/question from the last post was going to be how much this is related to someone's upbringing which you talked about in this post. I was at Target returning something and a little girl about 6years old had found a $50 bill in the aisle. Her mom walked with her up to the front desk to turn it in. The mom gave the background and the Target employee explained that they would record it in the book and if no one called to claim it within 60 days the girl could have the money. The mom was explaining to the girl why this was the right thing to do. Other people in line were commenting on how it was so great that the girl was doing the right thing by turning it in and I said to her "it will come back to you, don't worry". It is so true! I once was at a store sampling the lotions and found a 1ct or larger diamond ring. I didn't even think twice about it and took it to the manager. A few minutes later a lady came in freaking out about leaving her ring. I told her that the manager had it and she was so thankful. A few months ago an employee at the tanning bed place called me to tell me that I left my wedding ring there. She tracked me down by who used the booth. S told me that this would have never happened in Chile. I asked S if he thought that this was part of upbringing in Chile and he said "one thing is what they teach and another is what everyone does around you." He thinks that his parents taught him to be honest and they actually did a better job than other people around him. His Grandma apparantly was all about the finders keepers. I guess it shows the importance of instilling this value in your own children and even more important in a culture where it is not the norm.
Annje said...
Great post. My husband is one of the honest Chileans--I know he would return what he found. But, coming from Chile he always marvels at moments of honesty (i.e. getting too much change back and returning it to the store or a friend who found an envelope of cash with an id card and tracked down the owner. He often comments on how many aspects of the system in the U.S. are set up to function based on honesty (i.e. pre-weighing produce, and getting gas before you pay--though that has changed some too) Of course, dishonestly happens everywhere, but I think a big part of it is what is considered acceptable in the social consciousness--in Chile there are always stories of ways people cheat the system or take advantage of other people's bad luck (losing a wallet) and it is almost considered funny to be "pillo" that way. If you tell people that you found a wallet and kept the money you would mostly get the response you commented on. Here in the U.S. most people would be horrified to hear you kept the money.
Emita said...
wow, great great post. I found myself reading parts aloud to the people around me and going, yeah so true! this general attitudes was one of the things that made it so difficult for me to feel comfortable in chile and I still find myself struggling with trying to understand the background of it all. Things like finders keepers, stealing and cheating continues to confuse me in their normalcy by chilean standards. Kyle's chicken or the egg question is where I keep finding myself..clearly it's not a totally modern thing if someone's Grandma is perpetuating the attitude!
Abby said...
Fantastic post Lydia! Not that this is scientific AT ALL, but I was giving an oral exam to a group of 6 people, and one of the questions was, "If you found a wallet on the ground and you knew who it belonged to, would you return it?" Five out of the six said yes, because it's the right thing to do, which actually surprised me (given that it's Chile) but I think Aimee's husband is right about what people say they'll do (or what they're taught to do) versus what they do in real life (or what they see people do around them). Interestingly enough, when asked what they would do if a cashier gave them too much change, all six said they would give it back if it was in the grocery store because they wouldn't want it deducted from the cashier's wages.
JJ Saenz said...
Sadly, I think your analysis is spot on. It's a pity our culture is like that. I was brought up for honesty and have stayed that way, but I remember clearly as I was growing up seeing examples of dishonesty in people I could not believe were capable of that. I suppose my surprise and disgust in those moments is the same foreigners feel when they see dishonest behaviour. You would have liked a beautiful ad campaign there was in the 90s with an ogre and a little chicken, teaching people basically what you call The Golden Rule. It was called "Campaña por la Vida Buena" and was started by a clever Jesuit priest. I don't often agree with catholic priests, but that campaing had my wholehearted support. I wonder how many people understood how deep and important those ads were.
lydia said...
Cincinati Chile and Annje- Thats an interesting concept, understanding the culture through someone without actually being there. Truthfully I find almost all Chileans that have lived abroad to be quite distinct than the ones that haven't. Not to mention from your comments he doesn't seem like quite the typical chilean anyway. i think upbringing is a huge part of it but, as is usually the case, so is environment. the rewards concept was something i wanted to touch on but got too sleepy ;-) i'll get to it in another post jeje. and annje- wow, the envelope example! thats pretty shocking regardless i think....almost sounds like he was being set up for one of those newspaper stories! its not nearly 100% agreement in what to do in these circumstances in the US either, but i do feel like opinion swings the other way. emita- seriously, i think sometimes i have to just keep my mind off these things before i drive myself crazy. and even sometimes when i try to focus my thoughts i get as far as just "...WHAT? but HOW?" because its sometimes not so logical abby- way interesting about the cashier thing. but i think with that example too its a say vs. do. jj saenz- i might try to find those ads sometime... maybe theyre' on youtube? i don't write about it much but advertising is a subject of interest (well, thats kind of an understatement) and i'd love to see some more significant or interesting examples in chiles ad history. not to mention with a great message.
Sara said...
Wow... your post definitely kicks my post's butt. I didn't blog about it, but my boyfriend actually thought I was foolish for helping the Norwegian tourists who almost got scammed by the taxi driver. His attitude was "They HAVE a lot of money in Norway," then he looked at me and added, "they have a lot of money in the U.S. too." He basically meant that if they were foolish enough to get scammed that was their fault, but the fact that they had enough money made it okay. I was not pleased.
Matt said...
A friend hiked up Cerro La Campana a year or so ago and accidently left his us$1000 camera at the top (thinking it was in his backpack). He didn't realise 'til he got almost all the way back to the bottom and had to hike up to the top a second time in a day (that's pretty hardcore). On his way back up he passed all the other hikers and asked if they had seen his camera. All answered 'no'. Back at the top- no camera...so at least one of the hikers on the way down lied to his face and had stolen his camera.

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