Is it a sin, crime, or both?

by Swim

I remember making a joke to a college friend about something we didn’t like, “UGH, that’s a sin AND a crime!” We laughed, and it became a recurring comment. DH and I will sometimes make that comment as a joke, but other times we’ll use it to see where we stand on other value litmus tests. Jaywalking at an empty intersection? Crime but no sin. Nasty gossip? Sin but no crime.

It has been interesting to use it as a discussion point with the kids when having serious conversations that revolve around values.

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52 thoughts on “Is it a sin, crime, or both?

  1. Such an important distinction for kids to learn–love that you made a game out of it!

  2. Tangent book recommendation: I enjoyed Melinda Gates’ book _The Moment of Lift_
    The Gates Foundation approach of listening empathetically to understand problems and using data to evaluate different possible approaches is very appealing to me. Melinda makes a powerful case for global female empowerment.

  3. We have had discussions with the kids about ethical vs legal on several levels over the years that expanded into some situational ethics. Here are a few of the odd jumping off spots we’ve had:

    When selling GS cookies and someone asks you what is your favorite, is it OK to say that your favorite is the one that is selling the least well in hopes that your endorsement will encourage them to buy that flavor? This led to a whole discussion about endorsements in advertising and being paid for your (positive) opinion about a product or service. Is there a line where this can become deceptive advertising?

    When people automatically say “you are in my prayers” when they are not religious or have otherwise said they don’t “pray”. Is it an idiom to let the receiver know you are supporting them that we don’t have a more secular parallel construction for?

  4. @WCE – I have that book on hold at the library. I find Melinda Gates fascinating and inspiring.

    Love the OT idea – I am going to have to use that with DS. Many of the peeves we talked about earlier this week are not crimes but are mild sins in the sense that they are not very respectful of the Golden Rule.

  5. @AustinMom – We have had many discussions in the Ivy house about advertising, how different forms of entertainment/content make money, etc. Some of this was sparked by bringing DS to Bring Your Kids to Work Day – we did all the fun stuff, but I also walked him through how my agency actually makes money and how we measure it, which has led to some really interesting discussions, especially when he has questions about complaints his You Tube favorites have about their compensation model, etc.

    “When people automatically say “you are in my prayers” when they are not religious or have otherwise said they don’t “pray”. Is it an idiom to let the receiver know you are supporting them that we don’t have a more secular parallel construction for?”

    I specifically try not to say this because I am not religious, and most people who know me realize this, so it sounds insincere. But I wish there was something better to say than “We are thinking of you.”

  6. @Ivy – Your comment about the compensation models reminds me of the discussion of making money legally and ethically has come up in our house and where do you draw the line personally. This has come up both in the sense of a business and as an individual.

    Most recently after one DD saw some icky practices on reddit about a chain restaurant, such as not throwing away food timely and reusing it instead. At a certain point, the food quality has diminished, but hasn’t reached the regulatory age at which it must be thrown away. Is it in the best interest of the business to serve the food? Food waste is a cost you want to minimize, but if a customer receives lower quality food, they may not return and/or give less than stellar word of mouth reviews of your establishment. At another level, food service regulations require you toss the food. If you don’t do it at this point, you have moved out of just an ethical choice into a legal arena. But, what do you do if you are the peon and the boss tells you to serve it?

  7. I feel like we don’t talk enough about ethics with the kids. I’ve tended more to lecture them about avoiding things that are illegal – never hack into the high school servers, don’t have alcohol in your dorm room – or dangerous – don’t get in a car with a teen driver, don’t even think about vaping. I think with my daughter, we need to get more explicit because she is so impulsive and doesn’t think through consequences, including consequences of hurting or deceiving other people.

    We did get a bit into last night because I was talking about the strong ties between the military and universities, especially in engineering and CS. I gave the example of how cell technology was developed by university researchers who were funded by DARPA. We had a professor when I was an undergrad who was doing work on cell based communication for tank formations. My kid seemed a little surprised. I told him that this is something he has to accept about CS, and that he has to make his own choices about how much he wants to get into areas of CS research that are mainly funded by the military. I myself was supported in grad school off a DARPA grant, and I told him that. He actually has to take a course on ethics in CS next year – one of those topics mandated by ABET

  8. Terrific! This extends into public policy– and the frequent sloppy thinking in that realm.

    Something is a sin, so there oughta be a law– e.g., lap dances, smoking weed, 44-ounce soft drinks. Something is virtuous, so there oughta be a law– e.g., govt welfare (as a substitute for charity), govt funding for Special Olympics, federal funding for K-12.

    Instead of merely focusing on whether X or Y is a sin, people need to take the next step and ask when we should use the govt as an ethical and practical means to agreed-upon ends.

  9. Hmm. DH and I really don’t do the concept of “sin” with the kids at all, it’s a secular humanist type of ethical structure (if I had to name it). We’re trying to inculcate the sense of communal responsibility in the kids, with little to no success: you pick up the dish (or whatever) and put it in the dishwasher not because you were the one who left the dish on the table, but because you live in a household and it is the household’s stuff/junk etc.

  10. “But I wish there was something better to say than “We are thinking of you.””

    OK, how about, “You are in our thoughts?” Basically the same thing, but more analogous to “you are in our prayers;” both are honest for those who don’t pray.

    I think either is a suitable replacement for any reference to prayer for those who don’t pray.

  11. Something is a sin, so there oughta be a law– e.g., lap dances, smoking weed, 44-ounce soft drinks. Something is virtuous, so there oughta be a law– e.g., govt welfare (as a substitute for charity), govt funding for Special Olympics, federal funding for K-12.

    Those examples aren’t parallel, Eric. Government welfare as a sub for charity is related to viewing all citizens as having inherent dignity and being entitled to some minimal level of support. That’s not at all what charity is about. Federal funding for K-12 ensures that capitalists have a proletariat that can read and write, which is necessary for contemporary business practices. It’s not just “being nice to poor people”. Outlawing lap dances, weed, and soft drinks is straight-up paternalism. Teaching the proles how to do geometry is about feeding the economic machine.

  12. Finn -as you said, those are the same thing. Ivy’s question wasn’t regarding their honesty, but whether they actually mean anything.

  13. L – I was right there with you up until “but because you live in a household and it is the household’s stuff/junk etc.” Not sure I follow that bit.

    You put the dish away because you used it and we are a family (DH and I are not your servants). You are individually responsible for your actions (to the extent capable) and responsible to each other member of the family to take care of each other and our home. We try to model civic engagement and leaving things as good as or better than when we interacted with it. We clean up after ourselves, pick up litter in the neighborhood, recycle, reuse, etc. etc.

  14. I’m sorry if I was not clearer: I was critiquing the simplistic view that because X is wrong or Y is right, therefore “there oughta be a law”. I find none of my examples compelling (including federal vs. state/local financing of individual students), but decent arguments can be for all of the above– if they go (way) beyond “right/wrong…therefore”.

  15. ““don’t get in a car with a teen driver”” Milo, obviously now, just like the reference to dorm rooms. It is actually illegal if the driver is under 18 anyway, and part of the reason I give my kid is that I don’t want him getting his friend into trouble.

  16. I didn’t realize there was an 18+ law. No wonder nobody is dating. Where are they supposed to make out?

  17. Eric, I agree with your larger point, then. The jump from “It’s morally wrong, therefore it ought to be illegal” or “It’s a good idea, so let’s force everyone to do it” is often made cavalierly.

  18. I didn’t realize there was an 18+ law. No wonder nobody is dating. Where are they supposed to make out?

    LOL!

    It’s funny because it’s true.

  19. “Where are they supposed to make out?”

    Do people not have basements any more?

    OT: I am pretty much the reverse of Mooshi: I focus much more on whether something is moral/ethical than whether it is illegal. In the D&D world, I come out pretty strongly as Chaotic Good, so I’m not big on process for process’ sake. Ergo, harking back to the other day, I care a lot about specific things that are legal but inconsiderate (refusing to pull over to let other drivers pass, blocking the box, etc.), but care not a whit about things that are illegal that don’t hurt anyone (going 85 mph on a wide-open highway in the middle of Bum****, NM).

    So I tend to focus on that difference with my kids, because the degree of respect/compliance I give to a law or rule is based on both how much it comports with my sense of How Things Should Be and the consequences of breaking it and getting caught. So, e.g., while they’re in my house and on my dole, they need to follow the speed limit, because at their age they lose their license if they don’t, and that makes the insurance I pay for wicked expensive and makes my life much less convenient in general — IMO, there is no moral code involved, it’s just the practical consequences of breaking the rule that drives the day. OTOH, once they’re out of the house and independent, what I care about is whether they drive safely and appropriately for the circumstances and are considerate of others, because that’s what our society requires for us to all get along; if they want to take the risk of speeding and paying for a ticket/increased insurance out of their own pocket, that’s their choice.

  20. In Texas, a 16 to 18 year old can only have 1 passenger under 18 that is not related to them. So, they can drive around 4 younger siblings; 4 younger siblings plus 1 friend; 1 friend but not 2 friends. It is sometimes hard to justify that driving 4 younger siblings is less distracting than 2 friends, but that is the law. So, assuming it is you and your date in the car, you can be on the road legally.

    I COMPLETELY agree that because something is moral/ethical does not mean we need a LAW to require it nor if it is immoral/unethical that we need to make it illegal at face value.

  21. Regarding how to deal with the bigger picture of you live in this house/community, you should do things for the benefit of the others:

    A friend decided to teach her family this lesson by NOT doing any of those things and NOT allowing the kids to reap the benefit of these things for a month. She did give them fair warning. They didn’t want to do things unless they were paid to do them or directly benefited in some way. Some of the interesting things that she texted me:
    1. Mom, why are there no clean spoons but 7 dirty ones on the table? Answer: Because I only washed the spoons put in the sink or in the dishwasher. Picking up spoons that I didn’t use or weren’t in the place to be washed benefits others in our household. I am on strike from tasks that benefit the household but not me directly.
    2. Mom, the neighborhood church is having a free carnival with ice cream this weekend, can we go? Answer: No. We are not members of that church and it is free, therefore we would be reaping the benefits of fun and a yummy treat that we did not pay for in some way. We are boycotting activities that benefit the community because we are unwilling to support them with our time.

    I’m not sure I would have made it the month, but it did make an impression and the kids were more compliant.

  22. We discuss moral dilemmas frequently.
    Kids go to religious school and moral issues one faces are discussed there. Quite possibly papers on various topics are required (though I haven’t seen one :/). That said kids will be kids and in-spite of all the sermons and foolish behavior rears it’s head.

  23. LfB, but how do they *get* to the basement?

    The validity of turning personal morality into law is a huge issue in many states, particularly in the SE US, right now. I don’t think that’s the direction Swim was intending to go, but correct me if I’m wrong.

    We spend a considerable amount of time on right/wrong vs legal/illegal and on ethics in general, initiated by both my son and me. It’s one (of many) thing(s) about my parenting that flummoxes most of our relatives. More of that time is spent on big issues (ie why did the Pinnellas County Sheriff not want to prosecute the guy who shot another man with his hands up point blank, in front of his family?) than on jaywalking when no one’s around, but in younger years a lot of it was on classroom interaction.

  24. Perhaps we should add letter vs. spirit of the law to this discussion as well– although that can be tough for (younger or more-concrete) kids to understand.

  25. I was reluctant to say “you’re in my prayers” because I don’t pray in the traditional sense. But then one of my religious FB friends wrote a long post about how prayer does not have to have a god involved but can be a wish of goodwill in a more general sense. So now I’ve gone back to saying I’m “praying” for people.

  26. Letter vs. the spirit of the law AND while you can enforce the letter, must you vs. giving a person a pass who met the spirit of the law.

  27. If you are not religious, and someone who does not know you well says “I am praying for you” when they learn of some crisis in your life — what do you say in response? I always wonder about this.

  28. Kerri – it’s mostly when their current chore is to set the table and there are dishes or wrappers left out from earlier, or when there is someone else’s stuff on the table that they have to put in that person’s drawer, or whatever. Absolutely they are supposed to pick up their own stuff! But also “cleaning up the dining room” sometimes involves picking up other people’s stuff as well as your own.

  29. I am not very religious, but I just say thank you. I think that any positive thoughts from any religion, or any person can only help when there is a crisis.

  30. what do you say in response?

    I’m agnostic not an atheist. So who knows, they may be right. So thank you would be appropriate. And if they are wrong you accept the gift in the spirit in which it is given.

  31. Yep, thank you is what I say in response to good wishes expressed in any terms, just like at holidays/Christmas.

    I’m posting this because July and others were interested in the Lil Nas song, but we could talk about whether boycotting Wrangler for putting out a special edition of jeans with a line from a black guy’s song, although clearly legal, is a “sin”/wrong thing to do, and what an appropriate response would be. https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/crusty-country-music-fans-want-to-boycott-wrangler-jean-1834966840?rev=1558579426549&utm_medium=socialflow&utm_source=theroot_facebook&fbclid=IwAR2puHN0Z4-E64CzT5ThMWMKJ-8pxZ05Qg0nCHN382i2dw3GvpGzWlYVwqA

  32. If you are not religious, and someone who does not know you well says “I am praying for you” when they learn of some crisis in your life — what do you say in response? I always wonder about this.

    I’m somewhere between agnostic and Episcopalian but I’m always grateful for someone’s prayers and would always say thank you. As long as the prayers are something like, we are praying for your strength in this time, or we are praying you find peace. Not, we are praying that you change your ways or we are praying the Lord sends you straight to hell to teach you a lesson.

  33. Religious people have told me to pray for them which I do. For those who I know are not religious I say something encouraging like “hope things get better/work out” as encouragement/good wishes. I confess to praying for everyone who is having a hard time.

  34. “And if they are wrong you accept the gift in the spirit in which it is given.”

    Yes absolutely. You say thank you and accept the good intent 100%.

  35. Lark, I’m pretty sure “we are praying that you change your ways or we are praying the Lord sends you straight to hell to teach you a lesson” is how half my family prays for me. I still thank them for caring about me, because in the end that’s where it comes from.

  36. It is sometimes hard to justify that driving 4 younger siblings is less distracting than 2 friends, but that is the law.

    Siblings are allowed as a practical matter for the convenience of parents.

    LfB, but how do they *get* to the basement?

    The stairs. Or if it’s a walk-out, they might enter from the yard.

    If you are not religious, and someone who does not know you well says “I am praying for you” when they learn of some crisis in your life — what do you say in response? I always wonder about this.

    “Thank you.” I appreciate that it is their way of showing concern and providing support.

  37. S&M – all I can say is great that the haters are giving Lil Nas X free publicity. His song is already successful so haters can take a hike.

  38. When I pray for people, I almost never tell them about it.

    When I’m with a Christian friend and someone is annoying us, I offer to pray imprecatory psalms regarding the annoying person but I don’t actually do it- it’s more of a private joke that “We’ll pray the psalms over so-and-so.”

  39. Boycotting Wrangler jeans is not a sin at all from what I can tell. As Louise says, it’s free publicity.

  40. “When I pray for people, I almost never tell them about it.”

    That’s my approach with some people, but others in my circles greatly appreciate hearing that others are praying for them. So I absolutely tell those people.

  41. One of my more interesting stories about praying for someone who didn’t know at the time occurred when my history professor friend’s wife was dying of cancer at the same time as my FIL. After she died, we were talking about cancer death and he commented that he was sorry he hadn’t done more independent study to make sure the physician advice regarding her cancer was optimal. She had stage 4 lung cancer, so I told him that I had read up on her cancer (I was in grad school and had access to medical journals, etc.) and then just prayed for her peace and comfort, because in medical terms, there was no hope. He understood that in our circles, praying peace and comfort for someone when medically there is no hope may or may not be welcomed, and that’s why I hadn’t said anything.

  42. People in different circles in my life approach praying for others and being prayed for very differently, including like WCE said, what is being prayed for may not be welcomed.

    At one extreme, prayer is only welcomed/thought to work if we believe in God the exact same way (religion and denomination). Unless, this prayer is to help you find the God they believe in. At the other extreme are those who see prayer very much the way July laid out and basically any positive thought in the universe – sent or received – is beneficial and appreciated.

    I am generally aware of those at the first group and am just very careful about what I say. Most everyone else I deal with sees prayer or light or thoughts as a way to show support and it is accepted with the intent it is given.

  43. This is probably a sign of our secular bubble – I don’t think I’ve ever had someone say they’ll pray for me. (Maybe they would have told my parents that when I was a kid? But I feel like my Episcopalian background was more stiff-upper-lip and non-demonstrative.)

  44. L, the admin in my previous group at work was aware of something I was going through, and she put her hand on my shoulder and bowed her head and prayed over me – a long prayer. It was a little uncomfortable for me because my Catholic upbringing was not religiously demonstrative and I don’t have exactly the same beliefs as she does, but I took it as the generous and caring gesture that it was intended to be. My non-religious cousin is very clear on facebook when someone says they will pray for him that he does not want any prayers, thank you, but please redirect them to someone who will appreciate them. That is totally consistent with his behavior in every way, so I don’t think anyone he is friends with is surprised or offended. Maybe a little amused.

  45. L – my workplace experience in the Northeast was that of the stiff upper lip. We never knew much about each other’s personal lives, nor did anyone volunteer. I’m not talking about being intrusive just the minimal details. When one of my former colleagues died in 9/11, I realized I didn’t know personal details about the guy. I had to read his obituary. For me, that was the turning point and I slowly made it a point to inquire about people’s personal well being.

  46. Some of my close friends are former work colleagues. I met with someone earlier this week and we couldn’t believe that we were talking about APs and college since our kids have known each other since birth thanks to holiday parties and summer BBQs. I think I became so close with these folks because I went through long training programs and/or sat next them on a trading floor so we knew almost everything about each other.

  47. “Boycotting Wrangler jeans is not a sin at all from what I can tell.”

    Nope. But being so angry because they dared to refer to a popular song by a black guy? Something wrong in the head there.

    Totally off-topic new favorite food: miso butter on some version of sweet potatoes. Japanese sweet potatoes are best, because they’re not as sweet, but I just had the leftovers on regular roasted sweet potatoes, and it’s still delicious. Very very simple: melt butter, whisk in white miso paste to taste, add chopped green onions. You can pour it over in its liquid form, or refrigerate it so it re-solidifies.

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