Logan: I was in the Starbucks in our building yesterday. I’d ordered a mocha and I was waiting for my mocha, because it was Thursday and I Deserved It. The Starbucks is busy, it’s always busy. So I’m standing around with maybe half a dozen people waiting, and I see this this guy—I don’t want to say he’s homeless, because like, maybe he has a home, I don’t know, but he had on a lot of clothes and maybe two coats and wasn’t very clean. And also kind of talking to himself.
Anyway, he was very over-the-top stage-acty considering the display of coffee by the drink pick-up counter. Looking over his shoulder, picking up a bag of coffee, looking at it really hard, reading the label, mumbling some stuff about it. And then he put it in his coat. This huge bag of coffee. It was the least smooth move I’ve ever seen. I think I laughed. Not outloud. But to myself. And after he put it in his coat he sort of walked around and then went back and started doing it again. And then my drink came up and I picked it up and then I left. And then I told you what I saw, and you were like—well, you can explain what you were like.
Mike: Yes, this is a WWYD situation. When you told me this happened, I asked you if you considered telling an employee about it after you witnessed the theft—that was apparently still occurring!—and your answer was …
Logan: No. Well, no-ish. I did consider that it was a possibility, but a few things very quickly made it not a possibility. One: They guy was just so over the top and obvious, it felt to me that there was no way that an employee hadn’t already noticed him. Two: The Starbucks was so busy. Everyone who works there is behind the counter. There was no delicate way for me to have said anything to anybody, really. It would have involved weaving around a bunch of people and waving somebody to the end of the counter and then saying what I saw and pointing to the guy, and: No. Three: He was stealing some coffee, and it was not my problem. It really wasn’t even any of the employees’ problem. Theft happens in retail. It’s a given, it’s built into their operating costs. In retail jobs I worked, the deal was that if you saw a theft happening, you should alert the manager and maybe they’d go over and intervene, maybe. But it’s never part of the job description. That’s an extra bonus thing (really: I think at my last retail job, if you “disrupted” an instance of “product loss,” you got a small bonus). So it’s not like anyone is going to lose their job because someone stole some coffee on their watch. Okay and four: I am not going to intervene and ruin someone’s life. Like: I don’t know that guy’s life. What if he’s stealing coffee for his sister’s dying child? WHAT IF HE IS JEAN VALJEAN? So you see, there are many reasons why I said nothing. Would do it again.
Mike: And that is your prerogative! And since this is a WWYD, I would say that if I were in your position, I would have tried to quietly tell one of the employees. Also, I go to that Starbucks pretty much every day so I know the employees, and they know me, so I feel like as a regular, I’d feel more comfortable telling someone who sort of knows me (or at least knows what kind of drink I get every day). When I worked in retail, I was told something similar: Don’t confront a person who is committing theft. Tell the manager on duty and have her or him handle it, and most importantly, if the thief runs out of the store, do not give chase. Let the manager call the police. Also, I think it’s interesting that you considered this person’s backstory, because what would have gone through my head is: “Oh! That man stole some coffee. And he’s doing it again!” And then I would have quietly told an employee about it.
Logan: You say “it’s your prerogative,” but I feel like you think I am complicit by seeing something and not saying something. True?
Mike: Well, it is your prerogative, because you were there as a customer—not as a security guard. But I do think that more people would say something than not say something in this situation. Some people don’t want to get involved for whatever reason, but I think this is an instance where I would have wanted to say something. I mean, it’s not like I always say something. I see people smoking pot in the park sometimes, but it’s not like I call the police to report them—and yes, they are breaking the law too! I think it’s even illegal to smoke cigarettes in public parks in New York now. I’m wondering if the reason you chose not to say something was because it’s Starbucks. Like, if it was a family cafe run by a husband & wife or something, if you still wouldn’t have said something.
Logan: Hm that’s interesting. I think I would have thought about it more, and still not said anything. Or maybe said something after the fact? Like, “FYI, I think that guy who just left stole some coffee.” That might be as far as I went. I feel like people steal for a lot of reasons, and I can’t know the reason why someone is stealing, and I don’t want to intervene and mess up anybody’s life. It’s just not something I’m interested in doing.
That said, talking about this has got me thinking about Kitty Genovese—the woman who was murdered in front of 38 witnesses, none of whom called or helped—and I absolutely do believe in intervening in situations where someone is in danger. I called the cops a few months ago when a couple was having an argument across the street from my house that just felt really violent. But even then I did hesitate—is getting the police involved going to make whatever comes next worse for this woman? Being a citizen of the world is hard.
Mike: I think you over-think things! Again, for me, I don’t know what you heard, but in this situation I’d think, “It sounds like someone is getting attacked!” And then my instinct would have been to call the police. I mean, if I were in a situation where things were getting violent and I was screaming, I would hope someone would also call the police. Also, back to the coffee situation, I think it’s interesting that you empathize with the thief, but not for the place that is getting something stolen from. Is it a, “well, this is a shop, and they’ll recover,” kind of thinking? Whereas the thief is stealing because it’s his survival instincts kicking in? Basically, I think that you have been watching too much Les Miserables.
Logan: I don’t think it’s that I’ve watched too much Les Miz—I think it’s more that I’ve read too much and worked too much with people who are really, really struggling, and I know that it’s basically impossible to live on the up-and-up if you’re down and out. But, yes: Corporations are not people. People are people. And yes, I think about things a lot. TOO MUCH. (Not enough.) And to clarify: No violence was happening in that earlier scenario, I just had a Feeling.
Mike: Haha, yes, corporations are not people. Okay, so what I’d like to know if I opened up a coffee shop and you saw someone stealing from it, if you would still not say something.
Logan: I would tell you after. Because what if I told you and you confronted the person and the person was actually deranged and then that person murdered you?!
Mike: Then I would expect you to avenge me and then to start a scholarship in my name. Also, I’m not opening a coffee shop, EVER.