Locked Up

Many years ago, my grandfather attempted to throw away an old refrigerator.

It didn’t go well. He lived in South Philadelphia and the local garbage collectors wouldn’t take it. So this huge hunk of metal was sitting on the curb for a few weeks, and the local police threatened my grandfather with a fine if he didn’t remove it. But he had nowhere to take it and no way to get it there, so he got clever.

He went down to the local hardware store and bought twenty-five cents worth of chain and a fifty-cent padlock, and locked the refrigerator up to the telephone pole it was next to. Sure enough, the next morning it was gone.

A similar story about my father: some time in the 70’s, when my father was a young man, he had a job for a short while as a vacuum cleaner salesman. He was very good, but he had a very unusual technique. Instead of selling door-to-door in nice suburban neighborhoods with demonstrations of the device’s effectiveness, he would instead go into very bad neighborhoods and tell people that the vacuums were stolen and he needed to unload them. He changed nothing else – he sold the same product for the same price. But he’d sell out in an hour instead of a day.

I think the lesson here is that dishonest people are often more vulnerable to being fooled. If you’re the kind of person who’s willing to steal from others, sometimes you end up stealing a broken refrigerator. If you’re the kind of person eager to buy stolen merchandise, then sometimes you end up buying a retail vacuum cleaner you probably didn’t need at it’s normal market price.

It’s easier for someone who wants to get one over on you to feed your vices than to manipulate your virtues. Give yourself over more to virtue than to vice, and you also won’t get tricked as often.

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