Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXVI – An Oft Exploited, But Specious Plea

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonIt is not an infrequent occurrence for persons given to the habit of petty thefts and fraud, to seek to justify their irregular conduct by a pretense of justice which they call secret compensation. They stand arraigned before the bar of their conscience on the charge of filching small sums, usually from their employers; they have no will to desist; they therefore plead not guilty, and have nothing so much at heart as to convince themselves that they act within their rights. They elaborate a theory of justice after their ideas, or rather, according to their own desires; they bolster it up with facts that limp all the way from half-truths to downright falsities; and thus acquit themselves of sin, and go their way in peace. A judge is always lenient when he tries his own case.

Secret compensation is the taking surreptitiously from another of the equivalent of what is due to one, of what has been taken and is kept against all justice, in order to indemnify oneself for losses sustained. This sort of a thing, in theory at least, has a perfectly plausible look, nor, in fact, is it contrary to justice, when all the necessary conditions are fulfilled to the letter. But the cases in which these conditions are fulfilled are so few and rare that they may hardly be said to exist at all. It is extremely difficult to find such a case, and nearly always when this practice is resorted to, the order of justice is violated.

And if common sense in the case of any given individual fail to show him this truth, we here quote for his benefit an authority capable of putting all his doubts at rest. The following proposition was advanced: “Domestic servants who adjudge themselves underpaid for services rendered, may appropriate to themselves by stealth a compensation.” This proposition has received the full weight of papal condemnation. It cannot be denied that it applies to all who engage their services for hire. To maintain the contrary is to revolt against the highest authority in the Church; to practice it is purely and simply to sin.

A case is often made out on the grounds that wages are small, work very hard and the laborer therefore insufficiently remunerated. But to conclude therefrom the right to help oneself to the employer’s goods, is a strange manner of reasoning, while it opens the door to all manner of injustice. Where is there a man, whatever his labor and pay, who could not come to the same conclusion? Who may not consider himself ill-paid? And who is there that really thinks he is not worth more than he gets? There is no limit to the value one may put on one’s own services; and he who is justified today in taking a quarter of a dollar, would be equally justified tomorrow in appropriating the whole concern. And then- what becomes of honesty, and the right of property? And what security can anyone have against the private judgment of his neighbor?

And what about the contract according to the terms of which you are to give your services and to receive in return a stipulated amount? Was there any clause therein by which you are entitled to change the terms of said contract without consulting the other party interested? You don’t think he would mind it. You don’t think anything of the kind; you know he will and does mind it. He may be generous, but he is not a fool.

“But I make up for it. I work overtime, work harder, am more attentive to my work; and thereby save more for my employer than I take.” Here you contradict yourself. You are therefore not under-paid. And if you furnish a greater amount of labor than is expected of you, that is your business and your free choice. And the right you have to a compensation for such extra labor is entirely dependent on the free will of your employer. People usually pay for what they call for; services uncalled for are gratuitous services. To think otherwise betokens a befuddled state of mind.

“But I am forced to work harder and longer than we agreed.” Then it is up to you to remonstrate with your employer, to state the case as it is and to ask for a raise. If he refuses, then his refusal is your cue to quit and go elsewhere. It means that your services are no longer required. It means, at any rate, that you have to stand the cut or seek to better your condition under other employers. It is hard! Of course it is hard, but no harder than a great many other things we have to put up with.

If my neighbor holds unjustly what belongs to me, or if he has failed to repair damages caused, to recover my losses by secret compensation has the same degree of malice and disorder. The law is instituted for just such purposes; you have recourse thereto. You may prosecute and get damages. If the courts fail to give you justice, then perhaps there may be occasion to discuss the merits of the secret compensation theory. But you had better get the advice of some competent person before you a.ttempt to put it in practice; otherwise you are liable to get into a bigger hole than the one you are trying to get out of.

Sometimes the bold assertion is advanced that the employer knows perfectly that he is being systematically robbed and tolerates it. It is incumbent on this party to prove his assertion in a very simple way. Let him denounce himself to his employer and allow the truth or falsity thereof hang on the result. If he does not lose his job inside of twenty-four hours after the interview, he may continue his peculations in perfect tranquillity of conscience. If he escapes prosecution through the consideration of his former employer, he must take it for granted that the toleration he spoke of was of a very general nature, the natural stand for a man to take who is being robbed and cannot help it. To justify oneself on such a principle is to put a premium on shrewd dishonesty.