A Modern Day Parable
See what you can make of this. It is not a conundrum - when you get your head around it - but it is a modern day parable with, I believe, a clear message.
Deirdre strongly believes that some things are very wrong and some things are not bad at all. Her motto is "White lies keep the wheels turning". I shall return to Deirdre at the end.
Irene always fancied being a professional photographer. She had, however, never actually progressed beyond a simple "point and shoot camera". In recent years, of course, cameras incorporated into mobile phones have increased in quality and, although still considerably behind the standard of professional equipment, they do an adequate job in most ordinary situations. In fact, because of this, Irene had never felt the need to seek a better and more expensive camera; she was content to use the one provided with her phone, which she periodically upgraded.
The truth of the matter is that Irene had never actually taken photographs for anybody else, let alone received payment for such photographic efforts - which had never existed! That did not, though, stop her imagining herself from time to time in the role of a professional photographer, being paid to go to exciting places to take shots of interesting subjects and people. Why not? It made her feel good and isn't it good to strive to be somebody better than you are?
Also, it gave her more confidence. Although she had never formally studied photography, she was able to drop into conversations a few technical terms she had picked up along the way. At times, she could vividly imagine that she felt like a proper, qualified photographer merely waiting for work. Where was the harm in letting people think she was qualified in her subject?
One day, through a friend of a friend, Irene was introduced to Tony. It transpired that Tony needed a few close up photographs of flowers to accompany an article he was writing for a local Gardeners' Society periodical. Irene pretended to know quite a lot about flowers; after all, she thought, that is how people secure work, saying they have the necessary knowledge when in fact they might not. She spoke affectionately about flower names of which she had only the vaguest notion but somehow managed not to give herself away!
Tony was pleased to have met a person who was obviously passionate about her subjects and who was clearly able to help him. He asked Irene to take the photographs he needed, writing down for her the flower names to be depicted. Although he was unable to pay Irene in cash, he had agreed with a local music shop in which he was involved that she could have half a dozen discs free of charge by way of "payment". Irene readily accepted the commission; this was her first real photographic job and perhaps the start of her being able to follow the path she had so often thought about.
Irene greatly enjoyed finding, amongst the local nurseries, the requisite flowers. She picked a bright day for her "shoot", carefully arranging her subjects individually and taking a number of photographs from different positions. They were not good! The colour rendition was poor, they were far from expertly framed, the backgrounds looked amateurish and most of the shots, being at close range, appeared out of focus, despite Irene's increasingly desperate attempts. No amount of subsequent doctoring on the computer could rectify the lack of quality or fuzziness. What was she to do?
Drawing on her resourceful nature, Irene spent a not inconsiderable time searching on the internet, looking for what she wanted. Tucked away on various web pages not immediately obvious to a casual browser, she eventually managed to locate some beautiful pictures of the exact subjects she needed. Irene was convinced that her photographs would have looked precisely like these if she possessed the correct equipment and had more time.
She therefore downloaded and slightly tweaked these captured images, via a free, simple on-line photo enhancing website. In due course the pictures were delivered to Tony, by which time Irene had convinced herself that if by some unfortunate twist any of them were discovered to have been sourced from the internet, she could either pass them off as different photographs (because of the subtle changes she had made to them) or perhaps even pretend that she had supplied them to the websites in the first place.
Much to Irene's pleasure, Tony was delighted with what she had produced and it was with a great sense of pride and satisfaction that she presented herself at the music shop to claim her reward.
Unfortunately the two assistants there, trying to handle everything in the shop Manager's absence, claimed to know nothing about the deal Irene had been promised. Did they know Tony? Yes of course, he was a sleeping partner in the firm but was so disorganised. They wouldn't be at all surprised if he had simply just forgotten to tell them what he had agreed but Irene must understand they couldn't just give out free things to everybody who claimed them in Tony's name. He was on a golfing holiday in America with the shop Manager and neither were really contactable.
This was unbearably frustrating for Irene. There right in front of her were the music CDs she wanted. She had earned these by delivering her side of the bargain. She had supplied what Tony wanted; he was pleased; the CDs had been promised to her. Why should she have to wait?
Alright, thought Irene, suddenly making up her mind, I'll just take them; I'll slip them in my bag while the assistants are serving somebody else. Of course, she told herself, it would not be stealing at all, just fulfilment of the contract which had been agreed....
The Message of the Parable
What Deirdre actually believes - and strongly - is that stealing is wrong but that white lies are perfectly acceptable. Two things follow from this:
If Deirdre condemns Irene for stealing the CDs she will actually condemn herself, because Irene achieved entitlement to those CDs through a series of white lies, no different to the sort Deirdre tells and which she believes are not bad at all.
If Deirdre does not condemn Irene for stealing then she would, perforce, be condoning where Irene's white lies had led her, i.e. to stealing, the very thing which Deirdre would aver is wrong!
This little scenario has, I hope, at least made you think and you may have formed your own, possibly different, conclusions. If so, I would love to hear from you!
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire April 2016