Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Don't Touch My Cola No Matter How Thirsty You Are

Here's a question for you: If you were really thirsty, and there was an ice-cold six-pack of your favorite soda that was seemingly abandoned in your work lunchroom refrigerator, would you help yourself to a can? What if no one else was in the building? What if the six-pack had been left untouched in there for weeks? Is it really stealing if no one seems to care if you take them? I have to confess, I'd be tempted.

What if, instead of a six-pack of pop, it was a plate of $1 bills?

I probably wouldn't touch them.

I once did some backpacking in the wilderness of Idaho a couple of sweltering summers. Just before leaving for a one-week hitch into the woods, with a forty-pound pack on my back, I left a six-pack of ice-cold cokes in the fridge of the bunkhouse where I was staying. By the time I got back, lean and sweating and ready to collapse, all of the cokes were gone. I was pissed off! No one confessed to this dastardly crime.

Here's another one for you: If you had to choose between making someone suffer quickly or slowly, which would you choose? Let me put it another way: When you take the band-aids off your kids, do you do it slowly or do you rip it off? I'm more of a "rip it off" kinda guy.

An Israeli researcher at MIT named Dan Ariely is exploring these very sorts of scruples:


He argues in his new book, "Predictably Irrational", that these seemingly irrational decisions people make about ethics is actually predictable, and he has tests to show it. The examples I gave above were two of the sorts of questions. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list since February 19.

His results, in a nutshell: People start out with good intentions, but life experiences lead them to cheat just enough to get away with it, or to make irrational decisions that seem to justify their mindsets, often in a predictable and economically-driven way.

I think we'd all like to think we are very ethical people. I do. But if it's a hot, hot day in the middle of summer, there's a wet six-pack of cola sitting in that fridge, and the owner of that coke has been gone for a week, wouldn't you reach out for a cold one? You can pay him back later, right?

Go on. Take a sip. I won't tell. They'll never know it was you ….

Image taken from HERE, stolen without conscience.

1 comment:

simplethymes said...

Yeah, I would probably take the coke if the owner has been gone for a week and I am really, really thirsty on a hot day. And I don't really see that as irrational or unethical.