I’ve Got Mine: Greed and Human Nature

At long last, Congressman George Santos is being called to task for using campaign funds to pay for personal luxuries, lying to his constituency about his background and credentials, falsifying records, and stiffing landlords for months of rent (among other things). According to CNN:

The House Ethics Committee released a scathing report Thursday about embattled New York Rep. George Santos, finding evidence he broke federal laws, stole from his campaign and delivered a “constant series of lies” to voters and donors on his way to winning a US House seat….

The findings from an investigative subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee range from evidence that campaign funds were used to pay for Botox and leisure travel to signs that Santos was deeply involved in filing false reports to federal regulators that masked the true state of his finances and that of his campaign.

While the House Ethics Committee states that Santos “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” Santos himself says he’s done nothing unethical.

There’s really no doubt that Santos is guilty on charge after charge — from credit card and identity theft to misuse of campaign funds. He’s a liar and a thief. But how different are Santos’s actions from those of thousands of others — from the Supreme Court to ordinary people with tempting opportunities available?

Yes, many of us may feel that it’s unethical to take what isn’t ours. But what about the employee discount card you’re using for a store you haven’t worked at in ten years? Or the extra food you covertly took from the breakfast buffet? Granted these are small instances–and not really criminal–but we all know perfectly well that we were supposed to turn in that discount card, and that a breakfast buffet is not meant to fill our pockets for a free lunch.

The temptation to take what’s not quite ours, though, can be overwhelming. And when potential consequences are slight, most of us are likely to take just a little more than we’re entitled to.

It’s very human to want want we don’t have, and to take what we can get. Often, that desire is driven by a comparison between ourselves and others. Because there are always others with more — sometimes much much more. Traditional and social media don’t help: we are pushed, methodically, to compare ourselves to others, feel deprived, decide we are entitled, and either take more than we are entitled to or spend more than we have.

Sometimes the desire to take can mask itself as a desire to give. Imagine an admissions director at a university giving a little extra support to an application from a friend’s child who has struggled in school… or the manager of a theater giving comp tickets meant for donors to her low-income cousins… or a bookkeeper “creatively” filling out forms to allow a friend’s business to avoid bankruptcy.

If you have the ability to take what’s not yours — is it ever an ethical choice? And… how many of us, when tested, would avoid all temptation?

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