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Stealing is stealing no matter how you rationalize it

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POSTED March 11, 2010 1:22 a.m.
We were bicycling down River Road a few years ago when the lady I was with – a deputy with the Dade County Sheriff’s Department in Florida – said she wanted to stop for a second.

She got off her bicycle, walked to a nearby tree on the edge of an orchard and started reaching up to grab an apple.

I asked her what she thought she was doing. She looked at me with a quizzical look and said she was picking an apple. I told her she was stealing. She tilted her head slightly to one side as if to signal that she couldn’t believe what I had just said.

I told her it belonged to a farmer who makes his livelihood supporting his family by raising apples adding that he had invested a lot of time and money to bring the crop to maturity.

I’ll never forget her response: “So, how is that stealing?”

How, I replied, would you like it if people kept going into your yard and clipping roses without your permission?

She pondered the point and about 10 seconds later admitted she had never thought of it like that before.

That is the problem that most of us have when it comes to property rights. Our personal property is always important and essentially sacred but not the other guy’s. We rationalize it in our minds by saying they’re not using it so let’s just slap a sign up on this corner advertising our home business. But if someone put a sign up on our front lawn along the sidewalk we’d go ballistic. There is no difference. You just happen to have a lawn and they happen to have barren dirt.

Farmers are the biggest victims of this double standard approach to property rights.

We’d have a cow if someone went four wheeling in our yards tearing up grass and doing donuts. Yet more than a few of us justify doing just that in an orchard or a field because somehow we believe that farmers’ property belongs to everyone.

It is little wonder that farmers – as well as rural property owners in general – are the biggest victims of people’s double standards.

Trespassing is trespassing even if the property is not posted. I know people who go nuts if someone cuts across their lawn on a corner lot but don’t think twice about going a quarter of a mile or so across a farmer’s field to reach the river. They try and rationalize the difference by saying the farmer just has a field and they have a yard. The bottom line though is it is the farmers’ property and not their property.

The thing that drives farmers and rural property owners up the wall the most is the use of their land as de facto dumps.

Poetic justice would be for the culprits of such wanton acts of slothness to wake up one morning and peer out their front window to see a broken refrigerator, three or four used tires, a computer monitor and a couple boxes of garbage strewn over their front yard.

Since most of us would get irked just to see some litter on our front lawn such as an empty soda cup tossed there by people who have made laziness a lifestyle you can bet your last Toter that they’d be demanding police pull out all stops to catch the culprits.

Respecting property – and the right to own it whether it is land, a house, or some other inanimate object – is a cornerstone of civilized behavior that is based on the tenants of individual freedoms.

To disrespect property mocks individual freedom.

That is why Janis Joplin had it wrong when she sang the line “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” in the blues ballad “Bobby McGee.” True freedom of the individual is built on the assumption they can own the fruits of their labor. To own land, material goods and such in the secular world definitely defines freedom which is why in totalitarian states people own nothing.

That said, we often times have a strange way of respecting and embracing that freedom unless, of course, we’re the one getting gored.

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