The Moral Eel
I took one of my kids to the aquarium when she was tiny, and she really liked all of the animals. We saw Nemo, and Bruce, and Flipper. We were disappointed that there were no Ariels, though, and that took some explaining. Later we talked about which creature had the prettiest colors, and the biggest teeth and so on. When I asked her what was one creature she had never seen before, she instantly piped up: "The Moral Eel! It was really scary!"
I really liked that answer.
I've got a student right now who reminds me of this story. He came to me on Monday and said, "Hey, Ms. C., I need my work for the next two days."
"Oh?" I replied.
"Yeah--I've been suspended. It's not fair, either! I was helping Mr. Kite unload some stuff for the benefit auction, and there was some candy, and I took a candy bar after he left the room. It was just one piece! Everyone else did it! I don't think I should be suspended for two days for a piece of candy!"
I have to confess that I wasn't very sympathetic. Does the amount taken not make it stealing? If so, what is the magic cut-off amount that makes stealing okay? Does the fact that the candy was for a fundraiser change our evaluation of the situation, or that, at the root of it all, he was stealing from his own classmates and abusing the trust of his teacher? He affirmed that a) he knew he wasn't given permission to take some candy, and b) he knew that stealing is wrong. To me, if you violate the expectations of society, you take your chances with the punishment. I also recalled that this was not the first time the young man had been less than honest.
The moral eel is slippery. It looms up on the unsuspecting and its greatest asset is its stealthiness. It twists and finds the path of least resistance. I know some would say this young man is just a reflection of the society in which we live, where people talk about values but seem never to live them. Values are, after all, so terribly inconvenient when we're trying to satiate our desire for stuff and status. Or maybe we just want something, right now, like this young man, and feel entitled to it.