Our 12-year-old son Indie said he wanted an iPod Touch for his birthday. But we really didn’t think we could afford to get him a new one. So we checked on Craigslist and Kijiji and soon found one for $180. We’ve purchased and sold thousands of dollars of stuff via Craigslist and Kijiji over the years without incident. Seriously, not even one bad experience. Until today!
In retrospect, I guess I should have known something was off when (a) the seller’s phone number was listed as “Private” and (b) he asked to meet at Mont-Royal metro station instead of his house. But, then again, I know people who don’t want others to know their phone number, and I’ve met a buyer or seller twice in the past at Mont-Royal metro. Some people (especially women) just don’t want people to know where they live. And I get that.
We met the guy at Mont-Royal metro and he didn’t set off Anna-Liisa’s excellent bullshit detector. Didn’t set off my shitty one either. And the iPod Touch looked fine. So we gave him the $180 and went our separate ways.
When we got home and tried to activate the iPod Touch we discovered that it was still linked to the seller’s ID. So we tried to send him an email. But his Kijiji ad was taken down. Already! Literally twenty minutes after we bought it. Regardless, we managed to find the seller’s address and phone number on the iPod, called the seller, and discovered that, well, the seller wasn’t the seller. The iPod was stolen. As it turns out, the iPod was stolen from a 12-year-old boy who lives about ten minutes away from our house. In the last two hours, I’ve spoken to the kid, his mother, and, just now, his father (who’s coming to pick it up as I type this).
I feel so unbelievably stupid. Even so, I’m determined to learn from this. Here’s what I’ve taken away from this experience thus far: Rule #1: Don’t trust overly private people who don’t want you to know their real name, phone number, address, etc. For years now, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been saying that you shouldn’t trust people who don’t trust you, and I think I finally see the wisdom in that. Rule #2: If you decide to ignore Rule #1, and meet a shady private person in a public place to do the deal, take a picture of them!
Just gave it back to its rightful owner (the dad), a delightful man named Jean-Marie. He shook my hand vigorously, hugged me warmly, showered me with blessings and assured me that a reward awaits me in heaven. Good to know.
Since the 1970s, much of the ethical training at John Abbott College (and elsewhere) has revolved around teaching young people how to make rational ethical choices. We present them with ethical dilemmas (often absurdly clear-cut ethical dilemmas that would never happen in real life) and teach them how to choose good instead of evil. But this is probably for the most part misguided. We should probably be cultivating phobias, aversions, and emotional responses to evil. For instance, it occurs to me that I never even considered, not even for a moment, keeping the stolen iPod Touch. There was no ethical dilemma to resolve. There was no conscious moment of indecision. Indeed, there was no “decision” (the very idea of keeping the iPod makes me feel sick to my stomach). What’s more, much as I’d love to tell you different, returning the iPod Touch wasn’t first and foremost an act of kindness (though Jean-Marie’s gratitude surely felt good). Ethical behavior is for the most part a kind of second nature, like riding a bicycle, which we learn early on and then act upon for the rest of our lives without overthinking it.
Ethical people usually can’t tell you what ethics are; people who can usually aren’t especially ethical. For example, my friend Daniel Weinstock is a real mensch, one of the most ethical people I know. He also happens to be a philosophy professor who teaches classes on ethics. But I don’t need to take one of his ethics classes to learn ethics from him. I just have to observe his behavior. That’s how the vast majority of humans have learned about ethics since the beginning of time.
—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)