When I was in the fourth grade my parents gave me a cornet—a shortened version of the trumpet. Although I never really excelled at playing it, over the years I enjoyed participating with the band in numerous school music events. One of the most memorable was a band and chorus tour when I was a student at Academia Juarez, a little bilingual private school in Chihuahua, Mexico.
We loaded onto school buses and headed out to perform in cities and towns all over northern Mexico. We were on a tight schedule. About five hours out of our little home town, we arrived at the capital of the state, Chihuahua City, where we made a pit stop. Some of the boys on my bus discovered a little shop that sold fireworks. While the shopkeepers were distracted, a couple of them shoplifted some firecrackers before returning to the bus where they proudly displayed their loot to their friends.
We had traveled a little more than an hour beyond Chihuahua City when the principal found out about the stolen firecrackers, the cost of which in monetary terms was minimal. Much to everyone’s surprise, he ordered the driver to turn the bus around and to return to the scene of the crime. Upon arrival, the perpetrators, with heads hanging, went back to the little store, returned the firecrackers and apologized for what they had done.
Going back to Chihuahua City had cost us several hours in travel time and caused a delay in starting that night’s performance. But the leaders believed, and rightly so, that teaching us honesty was more important than the concert starting on time.
Our Creator said in the carved message on Sinai, “Thou shalt not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) Even so, many of us find ourselves rationalizing in many forms of dishonesty, including shoplifting, which is an act indulged in by millions who claim to be honorable, decent people. Shrinkage through shoplifting adds to the cost of nearly everything we buy at the store.
“Dishonesty comes in many forms,” said Spencer W. Kimball. “in playing upon private love and emotions for filthy lucre; in robbing money tills or stealing commodities of employers; in falsifying accounts; …in taking unreal exemptions; in taking out government or private loans without intent to repay; in declaring unjust, improper bankruptcies to avoid repayment of loans; in robbing on the street or in the home money and other precious possessions; in stealing time, giving less than a full day of honest labor for a full day’s compensation; in riding public transportation without paying the fare; and in all forms of dishonesty in all places and in all conditions…”
Elder Kimball went on to say that no society can be healthy without honesty, trust and self-restraint even though we often hear the excuse that “everybody’s doing it.” “It is not always dishonorable to be in debt,” he said, “but certainly it is to ignore debts. The theft of pennies or dollars or commodities may impoverish little the one from whom the goods are taken, but it is a shriveling, dwarfing process to the one who steals.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.196)
As I was cleaning out a storage area the other day, I came across the case containing that old cornet. I took it out of its container and made horrible sounds as I put it to my lips and tried to play a scale. I’m afraid my lip is irretrievably shot. But, as I turned it over in my hands, it brought back many fond recollections, including that tour of northern Mexico.
Although many details of that trip have faded from my memory, I remember the lesson of the stolen firecrackers. I am grateful for the leaders of my youth who loved us enough to teach us right from wrong.