CREEDE HINSHAW: On free coffee and moral dilemmas | Faith

CREEDE HINSHAW: On free coffee and moral dilemmas | Faith

A brief incident at my local Starbucks gave me opportunity to ponder the circumstance and definition of theft.

One Starbucks location in Macon allows customers to redeem their empty bags of coffee beans for a complimentary cup of coffee. I buy my Starbucks coffee at Kroger in the 12-ounce bag, enjoy my daily coffee at the house and eventually carefully fold my bag and take it to the Starbucks to redeem it for a cup of coffee.

The barista, I have learned from experience, almost never knows how to enter the code into the computer for this transaction. I must be one of the few persons who takes advantage of Starbucks’ generosity. The store manager almost always has to show the barista which code to enter into the computer.

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Last week this same script recurred with one key difference. The barista, after receiving the help of the manager, handed me my empty bag of dark roast Sumatra coffee. Every other barista had always kept the bag, presumably throwing it in the trash.

“Don’t you want to keep this,” I asked?

“No, we don’t need it,” she replied.

“What if I bring this same empty bag back next week and redeem it again?”

She shrugged her shoulders. So I left with my delicious cup of coffee and my once-redeemed bag, which returns me to the question I raised in my first paragraph of this column. What should I do with the empty bag?

Of course, it is possible that Starbucks enters a specific code on that bag, therefore rendering it unusable a second time. But I had no way of knowing that.

Should I return in a couple of weeks and offer the same bag a second time? At the very least it would be presuming on the generosity of Starbucks. But would that be stealing? The barista returned the bag to me with a shrug of the shoulder.

This minor incident is representative of the choices and decisions most of us face with regularity. The basis of a nation’s goodness and morality is built on one little incident after another. No law enforcement official can keep us on the straight and narrow path.

I am reading Cicero’s essay “On Duties.” Written 50 years before the birth of Jesus, this essay was widely studied for almost 2,000 years. Cicero, citing example after example, decisively concluded that taking advantage of another person (or in this case another corporation) can never be moral or right, no matter the justification.

One shouldn’t have to read Cicero to know this. Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures attest we should treat others the way we want to be treated. It doesn’t matter whether Starbucks handed the bag back to me or that one more cup of coffee wouldn’t affect their bottom line.

I returned home, enjoyed my cup of Starbucks coffee, gave thanks for their generosity and tossed my empty bag in the kitchen trash can. Theft is theft by whatever means and to whatever extent.

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