Respect the Property of Others
“WHY Is Crime Now a Worldwide Epidemic?” That is the question U.S. News & World Report asked in its editorial of May 1, 1972. In the United States, not only were some six million violent crimes committed in 1971, but robbery and burglary saw a 10-percent increase over 1970. Lawlessness in the form of such crimes obviously indicates a lessening of respect for the property rights of others.
Truly these are the foretold “last days” when there is an “increasing of lawlessness,” when we are faced with “critical times hard to deal with.” More than ever before, all well-meaning persons need to give thought to their respect for the property rights of others. Neglect in this matter could easily open the way for one to “follow after the crowd for evil ends.” The Bible warns against this.—Matt. 24:12; 2 Tim. 3:1; Ex. 23:2.
Besides the cases of reported theft, there is ever so much petty theft that never comes to the attention of the police authorities. This is true both at places of employment and in various kinds of residences where large numbers of persons share the same facilities. We do well to ask ourselves, “Am I guilty of this?” If something looks desirable but belongs to another person or to the management, are you tempted to take it if you think your act will not be noticed or discovered? Do you rationalize your efforts by telling yourself that you deserve more than you are being paid or that your employer is profiting greatly from your labors?
Another evidence of the serious and widespread lack of respect for the property rights of others is the wanton destruction of property. This is termed vandalism, after the Germanic Vandals who sacked Rome early in the fifth century. Modern vandals destroy upward of $100 million annually in the United States alone; New York city’s bus and subway vandals cause $2.6 million a year in damage. A common form of vandalism by youths is the breaking of windows of schools, of railroad trains and the windshields and the rear windows of autos. On just the Long Island Railroad (in New York state, U.S.A.), more windowpanes are broken annually than in all of France.
By and large, vandalism is the work of youths. It manifests its destructiveness especially in public parks. In such places youths push over drinking fountains, wreck toilets and befoul water supplies. Their destroying of signs, including those giving warnings, has resulted in death to vacationers. In one beautiful 690-acre wooded preserve, not far from New York city, youths do $100,000 worth of damage annually to the facilities. Additionally they do incalculable damage by destroying trees, shrubs and other plantlife, smashing swan eggs and clubbing young rabbits to death. What gross lack of respect for public property rights such actions betray! Highly incensed over the damage people do in such recreation parks, a Cornell University professor wrote: “People are—Pigs. . . . Not all people, to be sure, but the majority fall into that category.”
The same kind of mentality accounts for what is known as “graffiti.” It refers to the crude writing of names, slogans, obscenities and vulgarism on subway walls and cars—both inside and out—as well as on sidewalks, staircases, public buildings, on monuments, and on stone eminences in public parks. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the cost of trying to remove this graffiti pollution comes to $4 million annually. In New York city, subway graffiti has reached “the epidemic stage.” After many months the city fathers in New York city have finally passed an ordinance providing penalties for such defacing of property.
Giving Thought to It
It is not at all likely that our readers are those who burglarize or commit robberies, neither is it likely that they incline toward vandalism or indulge in graffiti. But still, all need to be on guard lest, due to thoughtlessness or lack of consideration, they do find themselves guilty of disrespect for the property rights of others. How?
One public park employee stated that the small but harmful acts that people thoughtlessly commit are the most serious because of their frequency. Do you heed such signs as “No trespassing,” and “Please Don’t Walk on Grass“? There is the tendency on the part of people who should be mature in their thoughts and actions to justify themselves when the violating of park rules serves their immediate interests, such as leaving litter about, or picnicking on the grass where they are not supposed to. But, really, they are either unthinking or, with a misguided attitude of self-importance, consider themselves above a particular rule.
The property rights of others deserve attention also when you are staying as a guest at a hotel. Are you as careful of the furniture and of the linens as if they were those of your own home? You should be. A manager of one of Brooklyn’s largest hotels keenly regretted that he could not afford to install quality furnishings, as he would like to, because of the abuse that guests accord such things.
The same applies if you are a guest at the home of a friend or relative. Your host may be in an expansive mood and offer you the run of the house, but it would be best for you to give more than the usual care to your surroundings. Otherwise you might carelessly damage something that has not only monetary but also sentimental value, which may result in your own embarrassment and in the injury of your host. And should you have a mishap, show your respect for the property of your host by having the moral courage to mention it and express your regrets. Do not leave your host to discover it after you leave.
Are You a Souvenir Collector?
If you are a collector of souvenirs, this fondness can also cause you thoughtlessly to disrespect the property rights of others. A group of American travelers were enjoying dinner at a Lyons Corner House in London. One of the party was intrigued by the tiny teaspoons that were part of the silverware and so asked a waiter if he could purchase one of them as a souvenir. It was the last night they were in London and the stores were selling these only by the dozen, he explained. The waiter replied in a broad cockney accent: “Well, suh, if you should happen to let one drop in your pocket, nobody would know or care, suh.” And so the traveler did just that. In that instance the waiter had as little respect for his employer’s property as did the traveler.
But most souvenir-collecting tourists do not even bother to ask. At least not many of those visiting the new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which, after the Capitol itself, is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. It is reported that tourists have removed virtually everything “‘reachable and detachable’ . . . All the original ashtrays and salt and pepper shakers have vanished from the center’s three restaurants, along with . . . a dowry of china, glassware, silverware and table linen. Souvenir hunters . . . cut swatches from rugs and drapes—and even snatched prisms costing $86 each from the elegant Waterford chandeliers.” And what do they leave behind? Cigarette burns in the carpets, liquor stains and smears of gum and candy. Respect for the property rights of others? Not these souvenir hunters!—Newsweek, December 13, 1971.
Your respect (or lack of respect) for the property rights of others is also betrayed by your borrowing habits. Serious lack of respect is shown if you “borrow” something without asking the owner—just because you happen to know him well, because you intend to use it only a short period of time or because he may not be around at the time. Even though you plan to return it, it is not yours and its owner has not given you permission to take it. Always bear in mind that something could happen to the thing borrowed, a book could get lost or soiled and a piece of machinery or a tool could be broken.
Respect for others’ property further indicates that we return promptly what we borrow, within the time stipulated. Never should you obligate the owner to ask you for it. Respect for the borrowed item also indicates that you should not, in turn, loan it out to another. Why not? Because it does not belong to you, and so you have no right to loan it to another. Besides, the owner may have hesitated to loan it to the other person. Then too, what if the owner came to you because he needed it back, only to find that someone else had it? Important too is that you show respect by returning the article in as good a condition, if not better, than when you borrowed it.
What will help one and all to improve their respect for the property rights of others? Reading the Holy Bible regularly. To begin with, it not only condemns secretly taking things that belong to others—in plain words, stealing—but it even condemns the desiring of them, the coveting of them.—Ex. 20:15, 17; Eph. 4:28; Col. 3:5.
God’s Word gives us not only negative commands, but also positive ones. We can never improve on the “Golden Rule,” which Jesus alone promulgated in its positive form: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.” To the point are also some of the words of his apostle Paul: “Love . . . does not look for its own interests.” “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” Taking such admonition to heart will help us to counteract the selfish trend of the world by respecting at all times the property rights of others.—Matt. 7:12; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5; 10:24.