Ethics are something we don’t like to ponder very long. It’s easy to shrug off those thoughts that tell us maybe we should do things differently solely for the sake of pleasing others. Following are a few situations I often confront:

When money is tight do we change our values? Do we continue tipping the pizza delivery person or the cab driver? Maybe I tell myself that one tip is not going to make any difference to the driver, or if I give him an extra big smile things will be ok. We wouldn’t steal a book from a bookstore but why is it alright to take a picture of a recipe or page in a bookstore once in a while? How about sending myself a text message of a catchy title or topic I want to explore more on my own outside the bookstore?

If I go to a coffee shop to do homework and use their free Wi-Fi, am I obligated to buy something? What if the line is long and the place is crowded? What if I am with someone that buys a drink –is that good enough for me? How often do I stop at a gas station, use the restroom, and walk out without buying anything? Is it acceptable to write down titles at a bookstore and then buy them online for less money?

When sharing an entrée at a restaurant do I tip as if both of us had ordered full priced meals? If friends and I sit at a table for an hour after we’re done eating, do I tip accordingly? How do I feel about using a bookstore like a library; going there to do homework, using their books to do research, reading the magazines, and then leaving without buying a single book? In cities, bookstores are more common than libraries, and I have gone inside to consult a map or guidebook, committed it to memory, and went on my merry way. How about going to an outdoor store and having their trained staff find your proper size of backpack or shoes –and then buying them online at half the price?

I don’t think it’s wrong to browse in a bookstore and not buy every book we open. Bookstores sell more books by inviting the public into their store to spend time, with the correct assumption that eventually they will spend money as well. I have spent hundreds of dollars at bookstores—often buying books I knew I could find other places for less money, out of a sense of obligation to the bookstore. And I have also spent many evenings reading and buying nothing. I’ve even read full books by returning several times. Deplorable, I know. None of these situations would be legally wrong -even taking pictures of a book would fall under Fair Use of copyrighted material because it’s such a small amount.

How about software piracy? Do I use shareware after the trial period has expired -persistently closing the expiration reminder that pops up every time I open the program? Personally, I install a lot of small programs, and then uninstall them when I’m finished using them because they slow my computer down and I forget they are there anyway. Perhaps this is one of the grayest areas of all. Nobody really knows what I do.

In the early days of computers, Staples and Best Buy were the only places to get software -I spent a lot of money on software. Now there are countless sources on the internet where software can be had for lower prices and is sometimes even free. Maybe I think something’s not legit but I use it anyway on the chance that it might be. Or, maybe I argue that using ‘cracked’ software makes me more likely to purchase the real thing in the future. Is an ignorant person any less liable for infringements? Whatever the case, software and media piracy is a big issue that’s not likely to go away anytime soon.

So what’s the purpose of writing all this? I am surely one of the worst offenders. This is America, the most wonderfullest country on earth. America is what it is today by how the people –how I, treat my neighbor. We need empathy and honesty to value others’ feelings as our own. The next time you get that ethical thought, stop and think about what you really need to do.