Am I a better person when I know my actions are being watched by others? Am I more apt to do the right thing, or not do the wrong thing? All the recent press about body cameras and cell phone videos got me thinking we are headed toward a society where everyone is on camera all of the time. Would such a scenario make for a better world?
There was a time before video cameras: I was in fifth grade, and Sonny’s Corner Stand was at the end of our block. Sonny stocked a freezer by the front door with a monster selection of ice cream goodies: drumsticks, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and, my favorite, Klondike Bars. As a kid, I thought Sonny must be at least 100 years old and as blind as a bat.
On orders from my mother, I’d be sent to the store to get a quart of milk or some other essential. As was common back then, our family had a tab with Sonny. I’d walk through the aisles, picking out the requested items while Sonny hunched over the Ames Tribune. Then, speeding out the swinging door, I’d sneak a Klondike Bar out of the freezer. It was devoured before I got to our front steps.
Sonny wasn’t blind after all. The Klondike Bar would show up on our tab, and my mother made sure my theft was one of the many sins I confessed to Father Ryan on Saturday afternoon. Father Ryan would tell me that my every move was being watched, and he didn’t mean by Old Man Sonny.
All these years later, I’m still thinking about the scrutinizing eyes of the world—the ones we know about and the ones we can’t always see. Would I be more motivated to be honest and do the right things if I knew I was being observed? Or would it feel too weird to be spied on all of the time?
At some point in our journey to adulthood, I believe the vast majority of us develop a pretty good sense of right and wrong. At times we fail, but in most cases, we want to behave in an honest, supportive manner. Some of us have a concept of a Higher Power watching over us, and some do not. Regardless, I don’t believe the solution is to have all of our actions reviewed by our neighbor. Our goal should be to develop a sense of goodness within.
One thing I know for sure: Today, I always pay for my Klondike Bar, no matter who’s watching.