"C'mon, Mom, you can break the law! There are no cars for miles."
My 11-year-old son cajoled me to run the red light as we waited at a deserted intersection. Like any parent worth her salt, I saw the "teachable moment" flashing like a neon sign and responded.
I asked, "If everyone was free to decide when it was alright to break the law, what kind of world would it be?"
"A very bad world!" my 9-year-old daughter called out from the back seat.
The truth is I have on at least one occasion done the very thing my son was encouraging me to do. What harm did it do? None, but it got me thinking. Am I the same driver when my kids are in the car as I am when they're not? I've heard it said, "You are who you are when no one is looking." If that's the case, my kids don't know me as well as they think they do.
Some issues are less clear cut than running a red light. As a psychologist, I have heard of colleagues who change a client's diagnosis to fit an insurance company's criteria for reimbursement. This enables the client to get the therapy they need and the therapist to get paid. Although this is technically insurance fraud, one might argue it is in the clients' best interest. Therefore, the end justifies the means. Yet I've found this type of rationalization to be a slippery slope. Most any behavior can be rationalized somehow.
I go to a massage therapist who gives a 20% discount if you pay by cash. As I hand her the money after each appointment, I can't help but think with envy about the taxes she may not be paying on her income. I suppose I could do the same thing, as I have therapy clients who pay in cash. It would be easy to pocket the cash without recording it. Besides, my taxes are too high!
Would I do it if my son was watching? Would I do it if the IRS was sure to find out about it? Would I do it if I was the only person who would ever know about it? Shouldn't these answers all be the same?
In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us that a person who is faithful with little will be given more. I've always thought of this lesson in purely financial terms. But what if it has broader, more profound implications? If we aren't faithful in the small decisions in life, do we limit who we can become? If we mold our behavior according to social norms and rationalizations, do we stunt our own growth? Do we pray for abundance, and then limit what we receive by our behavior?
I don't know the answers to all these questions. But perhaps I should remember that there is always someone looking, even if it's only myself and God.