As I was taking a walk the other day I unfortunately ran into a woman in the neighborhood who was walking her dog. This is a woman to be avoided at all costs, as anyone who has ever gotten into a conversation with her will know. She is a nice person but once you start talking to her it is nearly impossible to get away; she rambles on in monologue going from one subject to the next, barely taking a breath and never allowing you to get a word in edgewise. I know people who have literally ducked behind rocks when they see her coming in order to avoid speaking with her.
I crossed her path going up the hill to my house and as we started talking I felt that familiar sense of panic: I'm going to be stuck here talking to her forever. I'm not in control. I'm one of those people who hates to be rude and don't want to interrupt someone else while they are talking; however, this person eventually pushes me to it. After listening to her monologue for about 15 minutes and feeling increasingly frustrated I jumped in: "It was nice talking to you, Alice, but I have to get going now". We said our goodbyes and I felt a flood of relief. I was on my way. Maybe next time I'll only wait 10 minutes.
The chapter I'm currently reading in Awakening the Buddha Within is about stealing and I began thinking how my situation of being held conversational captive applies to theft. I can attribute my feeling of panic to the fact that I knew I was going to be held up longer than I wanted to be and that it was going to be difficult to get away. In essence, my time was being stolen because it wasn't something I wanted to give.
The most common example that comes to mind when someone mentions stealing is theft from a store or some one's home; taking a physical item that doesn't belong to you without permission. There are many more subtle types, such as taking up some one's time, using more than your share of resources, cheating on taxes, , misinforming the insurance company in order to get a better rate, not letting the store clerk know when she forgets to charge you for one item in your bag. We've all been guilty of theft of one type or another at some point.
In a perfect world we would never infringe upon anyone else's time or feel the need to claim more than our fair share of deductions on our taxes. The Buddhists say that we do these things because of our need to cling and grasp; we feel that we don't have "enough"; enough attention or money. Is one really worse than the other? I wonder if the current difficult economic times will produce more, or less of these behaviors?