I grow flowers organically and sell them at a little flower stand located at the main intersection in Burton. Burton is mostly an intersection with a store and a couple shops. Of course, we have a coffee stand and my flower stand there.
I don’t want to stay out in the heat or cold all day selling flowers, so I drop eleven bouquets at the stand in the morning and go pick up my money and any left-over bouquets in the evening. I have a small cash box with a slit in the lid for people to leave their money in. This operation is strictly on the honor system. Nobody passing by can really see what someone puts in the cash box.
On any weekend, about two thousand people pass through the intersection beside my stand. Most of those people live here. Some are children. Some are youth. Some are immigrants. Some are homeless. Some are wealthy. Some are drug addicts. The peculiar thing about this arrangement is that the honor system works. I rarely have someone take a bouquet without paying. If I do notice my income doesn’t match the number of bouquets taken, more often than not, I’ll find the missing money in the cash box within the next few days. Occasionally someone will stop me and explain that they were catching the bus to visit a friend and wanted a small gift but didn’t have money so they took flowers then brought the money to the stand when they got home. Sometimes people will put in twenty dollars with a long elaborate note about how they didn’t have anything smaller than the twenty, but really needed the flowers, and they want to run a credit with me. Each time they take flowers they’ll leave a note saying what they took and what their balance is.
Occasionally, we do have someone who isn’t honorable. For years one woman would visit the island in the summer and decorate her house with bouquets that she didn’t pay for. Once I almost caught her. She saw me coming, handed the bouquets to her grandchild in the back seat of her car and drove off with gravel and dust flying behind her. Note, this is someone who owns a house in the city and a beach house on the island—not a poor person. I told the local garden reporter about her. I complained about her to everybody I met. I emphasized the role of the grandchildren in the back seat of her nice car. Word gets around on a small island. Other people recognized my description as that of someone who shoplifted in their businesses. Years have passed and this person visits the island less and less, much to the relief of all the businesses, but I know when she’s here.
Aside from that one person, nobody steals from my stand. I’ve talked to other islanders who operate farm stands. Most stands are set up on back roads with nobody around. Yet they function because people will pay for what they take. We once had a group from off island who came on Sunday mornings and stole from stands. They got caught, and we all went back to business as normal-no theft or vandalism.
I think the emphasis of the media on reporting only bad news tends to normalize theft, cheating, lying, assault and any sleazy behavior that we do find in the media. The lying politician is as much an aberration in the totality of humanity is the one person who steals from my stand. The one in three thousand who is dishonest stands out simply because they do things nobody else would think of.
My conclusion is that most people are honorable. They don’t steal. They are not after something they don’t pay for. Children, youth, the homeless, immigrants, the poor, and drug addicts all respect the honor system. Perhaps stealing from a flower stand is one of those significant behaviors that Indicates the perpetrator is a sociopath because most people do respect the system. People are generally okay. The one person, out of two or three thousand people, who steals places a burden on the rest of the community, but does not define humanity.