Stealing – can it ever be justified?

Stealing – can it ever be justified?

‘Thou shalt not steal’ is well known as the eighth commandment of the Old Testament. But crimes of theft are the biggest part of most countries’ legal systems. People continue to transgress against the anti-theft laws in most cultures. Laws that have been written to protect people’s property or money. Theft is punished by the law and the sentences meted out are usually commensurate with the value of the goods that are stolen. However, we have all heard of the thief that was hung or transported to Australia, in the bad old days, for stealing a loaf of bread for their starving families. Or chopping off a thief’s right hand to prevent them stealing again. This gives us pause for thought. Are there degrees of theft? Can it be justified sometimes? Is it always wrong?


The example depicted in the cartoon scenario above was created to stimulate discussion of the moral dilemma facing the main character, Galen. If he succumbs to the temptation to steal food from the lunchbox of his friend, Kookie. Is it better or worse to steal from a friend?  Some might say it is a betrayal of trust, but others could argue that stealing from a friend (rather than a stranger) provides the opportunity for the thief to justify their actions later. For example, Galen could tell Kookie that he was starving hungry and intends to pay back the food the next day.  Or that the food wouldn’t have been worth eating anyway after being left out in the sun. Paying it back later is the sort of justification often used by embezzlers when they help themselves to the office petty cash while promising themselves, they will pay it back. Is this different from helping yourself to money from a stranger?  Is it better to steal from someone you don’t know? Some thieves say that theirs is a ‘victimless crime’ because they are stealing from a large corporation or government department, not an individual. Does this make it more acceptable? What about stealing money from your family? A few coins here and there. Is it harmless? Do we feel the money is ours anyway? Sort of?


Is there a scenario where stealing is acceptable and justifiable? My own thoughts are that it is the thin edge of the wedge. The entry-level crime that can lead to more self-justification to perform more serious thefts. To have a personal moral code not to steal is likely to assist with making ethical choices throughout a person’s life. Yes, I am even talking about office stationery!


I’d love to hear your comments on this and what responses the children have to this scenario when it is used with them. Have fun!


The cartoon image is available as a PDF download with accompanying discussion questions and a worksheet to develop the concepts. Email for your FREE pdf’s.