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Which Would You Choose?

By Rabbi Shea Hecht

The title of the article carried in many newspapers and many web sites was some variation of the following: "Judge in Alabama Forces Shoplifters to Wear 'I Am a Thief' Sign Outside Store."

The title did not actually represent the whole story. The truth was that Attalla City Judge Kenneth Robertson Jr., gave at least one of the shoplifters, Lisa King Fithian, 46, a choice. Given the choice of 60 days in jail or standing outside Wal-Mart from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. holding a sign reading "I am a thief; I stole from Wal-Mart," she chose the latter.

Fithian maintained her innocence and said her conviction was based on a misunderstanding: She said she was taking a $7 item to the service desk because it would not scan.

Outside the store, she said people who saw her wearing the sandwich board commented that the punishment was "cruel."

Store manager Neil Hawkins said "The only comments we've heard so far have been positive. Most of them thought it was a good thing."

Hawkins noted how embarrassing it would be for the public to see someone who got caught shoplifting. "Maybe they'll think twice about doing it," he said.

This news story really had me thinking. In fact, I took an informal survey of many people that I met over the week that this story was running around my head.

Is it better to suffer shame for a short time and get it over with or to sit in jail for a longer time hoping no one will find out about it?

What would motivate someone to choose the punishment of standing in front of the store with a sign that brings shame and what would inspire the choice of sitting in jail for 60 days?

Actually, I think this news story is an interesting parable for much of our lives. Many of us face this same question on some level at some point in our lives. Often, we are given the choice of doing one thing with some shame or something else that allows us to hope we can get away without being shamed. It's not always so clear which choice is the "right one."

Here are other questions to think about.

Would you rather that your spouse not have a job at all if the job that's offered is below your barometer of shame?

Would you rather have a child who will spend their life in "penitentiary" than face the shame of getting them help?

Or would you spend your life in a "jail" of a difficult marriage rather than face the shame of going for help?

Would you lose a friend to spare the shame of asking for forgiveness? Would you suffer bad health instead of the "shame" of going to a doctor?

I asked many people what they would do given the choices presented to Lisa King Fithian. Which would you choose?

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