“The theoretical Samaritan”

It would seem that my local coffee shop is a prime location for a spot of undercover crime detection. And no, I haven’t been watching too many crime dramas on ITV3. (Although, I have).

The last two times I have visited this particular coffee shop I have witnessed a crime – the same crime. Shoplifting. From the same place – a clearly unlucky branch of the popular high street chemist, Superdrug. And on both occasions the thieves were homeless people.

From the sanctum of Pret a Manger‘s first floor seating area I gazed down, over the froth of my cappuccino, at the Sunday morning scene below. New Street’s pavement was being pounded by grumpy families, gaggles of teens and hungover people. I love this – being nosey. It opens fleeting windows into the mundanity of other people’s lives. What they choose to buy for lunch. Where they do their supermarket shopping. How they talk to people on the phone. You learn so much about fellow humans from what they do in presumed privacy. Obscured from view as I was, looking down on everyone from on high in a God-like manner, I revelled in passing unrestrained judgement wherever I saw fit. Tutting at the spitting and litter-dropping. Cringing at the sheer volume of Superdry coat wearers (they don’t seem to fit most humans!) And that’s when I saw two characters huddled in front of a postbox.

I think the only way to describe them is shady. They were scheming. The thrill of covert observation suddenly stepped up a notch. You pray for stuff like this as a people watcher – juicy stuff. Shiftily, they scouted the exterior. One walking off back to the postbox while the other strolls in with an empty Superdrug bag – ingenious.

For me, this was purely entertainment. It felt not so much like real life, but television. I was back on the sofa in front of Lewis. No moral instinct kicked in – it didn’t even cross my mind to intervene. What exactly was I going to do anyway? Don my coat over my shoulders like a caped crusader, hurtle down the (many) stairs at Pret, career across the street and then… what? Alert the Superdrug security guard? Oh, he already knew what the pair were up to. He’s as resigned as the rest of us.

And that’s the thing. Has being a city girl all my life turned me into a lazy, bloated cynic? Largeing it up in a designer coffee shop, tucked up safely in a plush chair on the other side of the street, while this pair of lost souls are nicking a mouthwash to get drunk on. What’s one more theft? I was never going to act because I felt so far removed from the situation – from their desperation. I’d like to say the events released some Robin Hood sense of social justice in me, that I felt sympathy for the thieves and wanted the little man to win over the big. But if anything I was indifferent. Bored. Expecting it.

Am I a bad human? I’d like to think if it was a more serious crime I’d witnessed I would have been compelled to act – but would I? Really? If I’m honest with myself there is a chance I would leave it to someone else. Does my sense of social responsibility only stretch as far as doing the recycling and remembering to vote?

I’ve been giving this some thought and, despite working for a social enterprise for the least decade, embarrassingly I’ve I realised I couldn’t really describe what social responsibility actually means for you and I. In case you need enlightening too, reader, social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems.

Of course, it’s one thing empathising with this message – which I do, in spades – and another acting on it. Which is where I sadly seem to have fallen short. But then, you may ask, where exactly was the thieves’ sense of social responsibility?

On this theme I thought It would be (semi) interesting to Google Superdrug‘s Social Responsibility Policy. One of their objectives is to ‘be fair’, not allowing customers to be discriminated against. They also state that giving back to the communities they serve is a key vision. Maybe I’ve got the security guard all wrong and he was in fact putting this policy into practice by turning a blind eye…

Did they get away with it, the thieves? No. There was something so pitiable about the whole charade, walking right into a pair of policemen as they did on their smug (but very short-lived) bounce down the street. Hardly master criminals. I felt very sorry for them. Instead of only exhibiting sympathy and kindness privately, for the benefit of no-one but me and my ego, perhaps I’ll take it out in public once in a while. Buying the Big Issue seems like a sensible start.

What about you lot? Ever intervened mid-crime? (But please don’t write in saying you saved a baby in an arson attack or anything, you’ll only make everyone feel bad…)

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