One day a friend casually mentioned  pirating some software on her job. When I asked her if that wasn’t stealing, she shrugged and said, “Everyone does it.”

That’s not really news, of course. Years ago, Time magazine had an essay that made a huge impression on me. That piece, Larceny in Everyday Life, explored a growing trend among folks who considered themselves moral and honest. 

As the journalist discovered, these upright citizens saw nothing wrong with stealing from their employers. They weren’t embezzling money, for goodness sake. Pens, copy paper, even ground coffee from the employee lunchroom were finding their way into employee homes.

This pervasive, “it will never be missed” attitude was costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Now I like to think that integrity goes up when we’re the ones owning the business. For the most part, the folks I deal with are unfailingly honest. That’s why I’m easily shocked when I see someone who is self-employed deviate from the honesty path.

One of the more blatant examples of that happened recently during the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There’s a man I follow on Twitter who describes himself as an entrepreneur and marketer who will help us grow our small businesses faster and smarter, who arrived in town in the middle of the event.

The next day, he startled me by posting a message crowing about the fact that he and a companion had crashed CES. Clever fellow or common crook? 

I commented on his message with a question which was, “And this is admirable because…?” 

His response? “Admirable, no. Fun, yes.” 

He might have saved some money, but it could have cost him far more than he saved. Is this someone whose advice I would want to take? Would I want to do business with him? Not likely.

The thing about integrity—or the lack of it—is that it’s sometimes easier to notice when it’s missing in someone else, but it may not be so obvious in ourselves. I’m thinking of a writer I know who frequently passes on eloquent quotes without attribution.

When I questioned him about such things, he said, “When I read something I like, I just think I’d like to have said that, so I do.”

“You’ll feel differently,” I suggested, “when someone takes something you’ve written and passes it off as their own.”

”Oh, I’d be flattered,” he insisted.

Apparently, he didn’t share the philosophy of another writer who had a clear policy about such matters. “I’d rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer,” asserts Jack Smith. Larceny is larceny and size really doesn’t matter.

Every one of these examples have something else in common: the fact that they talk about getting away with these little larcenies suggests that they see nothing wrong with them. 

Maybe I’m naive, but I tend to side with the philosopher who said, “The person who can’t be trusted in small matters, can’t be trusted at all.”