Chapter 2, part 8, Perception and Focus, The Office Desk Test Results

The below continues on from last weeks office desk test…

Before we go into the deeper quarrels of life let’s go back to the office and start with item 1 and 2.

A pen is mightier than the sword (unless of cause you are fighting a ninja, in which case you would prefer a sword) yet when bought in bulk a pen comes down to less than 10 cents each. They are also frequently required by almost all office workers therefore their dispersion is not monitored. It is also commonly accepted that a pen accidently remains in your top pocket or that they run out of ink regularly. This is where we get into the science of the mind.

Try to think of the brain as an intelligence that constantly asks questions. From the moment you wake up it asks ‘should I hit the snooze button? How much time till work? Have I brushed the teeth enough? Is my makeup on properly? Is it time for a haircut? Is that enough cereal in my bowl? Have I got everything? What’s the weather like?’ and so forth. In fact, before you even get to work you could have asked well over a hundred questions. Most of these questions are unconscious yet that does not mean that they are any less relevant to your existence. It is said that the quality of your life can be equated to the quality of your questions. For instance ‘why does this always happen to me?’ verses ‘why did that happen to me?’ is a completely different question. One question assumes that you are always unlucky; the other is simple intrigue… We will go through the importance of questions later on, though for now, it’s important to know that the brain works in this way.

So how does the brain operate when deciding whether to take a pen from work or not? Well, the brain will ask the below questions in regards to stealing.

What is the chance of being caught?

What could I lose?

What will I benefit?

Do I deserve this?

You may have heard of the pain/pleasure equation we do within our minds. The idea is simple. The brain desires pleasure and will move towards it whilst it also tries to avoid pain. Furthermore, research has found that people will do more to avoid pain than they ever will to gain pleasure. This is actually a rewarding piece of information. Essentially, if you are doing something in your life that is impacting you negatively, there must be a reason why. Your brain has somehow justified your actions as being less painful than other foreseeable options.

Let me give you a simpler example. How many times have you procrastinated? Probably, like the rest of the human race the answer is a lot. So why do you do this? It’s because doing nothing is a lot easier than the flip side. If you try something new you could fail which would result in pain. And of cause if you are familiar with Newton’s law of motion, you could state that the initial effort of motion requires a lot more force than when you have momentum. Hence you procrastinate because it’s less painful than making an effort.

So when we ask ourselves ‘should I take this pen’ our brain is actually weighing up the pain/pleasure equation. In relation to the pen it would go something like this…

What is the chance of being caught?
Not much at all as it’s just a pen that can easily slip into my bag.

What could I lose?
Nothing, even if I do get caught I can say it’s a mistake.

What will I benefit?
I will have a free pen that I myself don’t have to pay for.

Do I deserve this?
Yes, I work hard, am under paid, undervalued, etc…

As we discussed early on, the brain asks these questions consciously or subconsciously, but either way, the equation in some form has been made within your mind. For many people, they wouldn’t even think twice about taking a pen until the corporate managers look at the office supply costs, realise that their 500 employees are all taking pens home, and then a stern memo (a document that gives information to staff) is released. In which case, the equation will suddenly change within people’s minds.

What is the chance of being caught?
Since the memo was released, maybe they are monitoring the supplies and they will notice me.

What could I lose?
Still not much, after all it is a pen.

What will I benefit?
A pen, is it really worth it?

Do I deserve this?

As you can see with the above answers, a simple memo can stop people from taking pens. The benefit of scoring a free pen no longer outweighs the risk of being caught therefore it stops. The same might apply with cheating in a relationship, but before we get onto the heavy stuff, let’s work our way through the office supplies.

A pencil and a pen may be the same thing yet I am sure that for various reasons some people draw the line (no pun intended) between stealing one and not the other. This could be because there are less pencil’s in the office than pens for instance. As for the A4 sheet of paper, I believe this falls into similar equations. A stapler and an empty folder are larger items therefore it is easier to spot if they go missing. They also cost a little bit more which makes the experience a slight more risky. This may also cross a personal moralistic line.

This all being said, coffee/tea/sugar and milk change’s the equation entirely as you are now not only taking from the company, you are also taking from your fellow workmates. This close personal connection changes the dynamics of what is perceived as taking, and makes if feel more like stealing. For instance, if someone runs out of milk for their coffee you might feel guilty, and because it is a shared item, if you do get caught it looks a whole lot worse for you. Not only will you be in trouble in the eyes of the boss, but those that you may consider friends will now never trust you. Rumours and gossip may begin, and now every time someone looks at you funny you wonder if they are judging you. A corporate logo is always easier to steal from than an individual.

For the same reason as the above, chocolates, alcohol, clothing and/or sunscreen that was given as a gift to you and your workmates adds pressure to stealing. This is because you may respect your colleagues and simultaneously fear being condemned by them. This being said, bosses and/or micro mangers are in a different mental position. I say this because I have personally seen managers in different companies take such things with little remorse. This often occurs due to justification. The higher the ego of the individual, the less compassion there is for the people working beneath them. In fact the words ‘beneath them’, gives us a good insight into how a micromanager can think. They can feel underpaid, undervalued, that they work harder than everyone else, and that no one else understands them. This can make the mind feel isolated. So, if a customer buys the department a gift, the manager may justify that it would have never been given if it wasn’t for their own tireless efforts. It’s theirs!!! They deserve it!! And there lays the inner workings of the ego.

Moving down the list, it’s quite brazen to steal a mouse or a keyboard from a workplace nowadays. They are paramount to most office jobs. People will notice if they go missing and there are usually IT employees that try to fix issues if they arise. This adds complication to taking these items therefore it becomes too risky to even try.

When it comes to desktop computers or laptops the dynamics shift again. These items are much more expensive and they are also a lot larger. These machines can’t go missing without being noticed. This being said, there are those out there that may lie by saying that the computer was stolen by someone else. This is an affective lie though it does cross most of our moral values. We are now not only stealing, we also have to lie directly to another person about what occurred. For an individual to justify that this is an acceptable cause of action, they would have to tell themselves a very interesting story. Let me see if I can create one for you that can justify doing such a thing.

What if I told you that the office was buying updated computers and therefore were throwing their old ones out. Management has specifically stated that no one is allowed to have the old computers. Simultaneously you yourself desperately need a computer for home and can’t afford one on your salary. Would this change your thinking? After all it’s going to be thrown in the bin anyway so why shouldn’t you have it?

If the above doesn’t change your mind maybe this will. Your son or daughter needs a computer for high school and you can’t afford to buy it for them. Your integrity as a provider and defender is now in question, and even your partner may be questioning if you can take care of the family. Would you steal the computer for your child?

Let’s now raise the steaks… What if you are a single parent being questioned about your ability to take care of your child. Not being able to supply a computer shows to the justice court that you are not a fit parent. Therefore, you may lose custody of your child to your ex (who has a gambling addiction which can’t be proven) and stealing this computer (which no one will miss) is the only option you have. Would this change your perception of stealing? What if your child had a disability and the computer was going to affect their life dramatically? What then?

If this line of questioning has unsettled you in any way please take a deep breath and relax. My intention of running these scenarios were to emphasis one simple point, that life is not always easy. I am also not trying to question your morals or values. I am simply trying to get you to understand the types of pressures in the world that make other people question theirs. None of the above scenarios might have made you change your perception, but possibly, now you can understand why others might change theirs.

If you ask a parent how far they would go for their children, many would reply that they would do anything. Well… This is anything… Let’s review the four questions one last time for this scenario.

What is the chance of being caught?
As the computer is being thrown out there is a chance I can get away with it.

What could I lose?
My job, and therefore possible custody of my child for being caught stealing.

What will I benefit?
I look like a hero to my child, I am a provider for them and because such, I won’t lose custody.

Do I deserve this?
No, but my child does.

The above is what we call a moral dilemma. If a person gets caught they are in trouble, if they don’t take the computer they are also in trouble. Situations such as this change people’s belief systems. They can look at the big picture (like comparing this minor case of stealing to starvation around the world) and convince themselves that a computer is unimportant. Meanwhile, other people simply see the black and white. Stealing is stealing.

To finish our little discussion off we need to talk about money. This is where our perception becomes very interesting. You might have justified taking a 3 dollars stapler, but what about taking 3 dollars. Does the fact that it is actual money make a difference? Most people would say yes to this question, but why?

How can this be the case? Stealing is stealing isn’t it? If you took a pen from work, why wouldn’t you take the same value in cash? 10 cents… Who will miss it?

If we are going to head down this line of thought, what about all the time people spend gossiping at work not doing their job?  Our employers is paying for a service, therefore slacking off is a form of stealing isn’t it? And what if we look at examples outside the workplace… Have you ever taken coffee sachets, tiny bottles of shampoo and so forth from a hotel? Were you really supposed to take them? Don’t they cost the company money? Would you steal 5 dollars from the reception at your hotel? No! Well what’s the difference?


I have had a little fun questioning your morals above though I don’t judge. I am simply trying to make you understand that you rationalise your choices, we all do. And although it makes sense to us, we can’t expect the rest of the world to understand our own perception, morals and values, reality and our own justifications. Beyond this, every workplace is different, every boss is different and every interpretation of etiquette will waver. This is of cause all based on one small aspect of life. Most of us would say we follow this lesson blindly. Do not steal! Yet life is not that simple.

Perception Jamie Lee Woodman a.k.a The Lonely Spaceman

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