Non-taking 2

I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking what is not offered.

The precept doesn’t say, “refrain from taking what belongs to others”, but rather anything that isn’t offered to us. There’s a wide swathe included in what’s not clearly yours or mine; it leaves a lot of room for wondering and investigating.

One interesting area for investigation is within families. Some families share everything: food, cars, vacations, computers, pets, and especially personal news. For other families, there’s a clear, traditional list of what must be shared and what shouldn’t be shared, both in the material sense and in the realm of talking about feelings. I’m not saying there’s a right and wrong way to share. Obviously different cultures and different families have different customs. That’s what makes it challenging to know sometimes – where’s the boundary? What am I invited into and where should I not stray?

My suspicion is that many difficulties within families have to do with differences of opinion about what is common property and what is individually “owned”. Is this a source of trouble in your family?

Another important arena is the public world. For example, the wildflowers that grow along a public highway – who owns them? In one sense, every taxpayer and citizen is an owner. On the other hand, if I pull off the highway and collect a bouquet, then those flowers can no longer be enjoyed by other drivers. I don’t know what the answer is; it could be different in different places.

In a parallel but less lovely case, some people toss debris out of their car windows, despoiling commonly held property. Whose job is it to clean up after these heedless folks? Is it always “the government”? Or do each of us bear some responsibility?

Many years ago a friend told me of picking up some trash that had been tossed out of a car window while the car was stopped at a red light. He tossed it back into the car, through the same window it had just emerged from. I believe the original tosser was surprised, at least. I like that story, but those opportunities for direct education are rare. Mainly we need to look after our own inclination to leave messes behind.

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