There is a thief who lives inside me. She’s quiet and stealthy, good at what she does. She used to steal little things, a comb or a lipstick from the drug store, instinctively knowing how to slide it up her sleeve slowly and covertly, like a magician hiding a sword. She never got caught stealing little things, nor did she do it that often, only when in the company of other equally daring teenagers. When I was a grown up, in my twenties and living and working in Stockholm, Sweden as a freelance artist, the thief inside me returned from wherever she’d been hanging out and struck again.
I was working on a project with the Creative Director of a large international advertising agency. He was American, newly hired to take over the small but busy office in downtown Stockholm. I was a freelance artist and had been introduced to him through an acquaintance. I did the work that was required and submitted my bill. The honest perfectionist inside me, always careful to follow directions, noticed that at the bottom of the detailed instructions for submitting a bill was the statement to “submit two copies.” So I did. A few weeks later I got paid, and it was a substantial sum for those days; the advertising world always paid well. Then, a week later, I got a second check in the mail. How could this be? Were they paying me double, once for the sketches, as was common, and once for the final artwork, or was this a result of the request to submit two copies of the bill, as I had so dutifully done?
I approached the Creative Director, letting him know that I was confused. Why did I get paid twice? He couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “It’s just a mistake,” he finally said. New to the position and perhaps not wanting to be seen making mistakes, he told me to just ignore it, to keep the money, as it would be too hard to undo. It bothered me, but I kept the money, or the thief inside me did, or both of us did. I felt guilty about it for a long time and a lot of energy was lost to the stress of wondering if the company would come after me to return the money. Nothing happened. Eventually, I surmised that the company never realized their mistake. I breathed a sigh of relief and the thief inside me settled back down into her hideout.
I can’t say I haven’t seen her since, though I did make a pact with myself after that to try and be more honest. It’s harder than you think. What do you do when someone gives you the wrong change, when an item you are buying doesn’t get scanned at the cash register, when someone makes a mistake that benefits you, even just a little? There were minor incidences over the years when I would take what was provided, or not. Sometimes I’d feel justified that the universe must want me to have something, that someone else’s mistake was my gain. After all, it wasn’t my fault if someone wasn’t paying attention. But then I recapitulated and things changed.
In recapitulation I confronted the thief who lives inside me, remembered all the times she stole something, took something, got away with something. As I said, she was good at what she did and she never got caught, though I would suffer knowing that I took something that did not really belong to me, no matter the circumstances of how it landed in my hands. We met face to face in recapitulation, consciously and deliberately. I could not ignore her nor simply expel her from my life; she’s as much a part of me as my honest self is.
I acknowledged her and her desire to take what did not rightfully belong to her while she acknowledged me and my desire to be honest. Why did she steal in adolescence? It was a daring, thrilling act that left her feeling powerful; for once she was in control. It not only compensated for the lack of control in my life but may actually have helped me survive, given me just a tad of badly needed self-confidence.
As we recapitulated we agreed that stealing wasn’t right, but also that being straightforwardly honest wasn’t always right either. Sometimes it’s just better to not say something than to offend. Sometimes it’s just better to be tactful and walk away. In the end, we agreed that being able to discriminate, to have empathy, and to do what was really right in any particular moment or circumstance should win out. I also had to admit that there were situations where stealing might be absolutely right and necessary and I reserved the right to exercise that option should it arise. It’s not just a black and white issue; nothing ever really is.
In recapitulation the thief inside me and I met each other openly and honestly. We confronted our deepest issues with each other and reconciled our differences. We allowed how we really did need each other, how we each had our place in the grand scheme of life. We now live together in harmony. Yes, I was bad, but now I’m good and bad!
In recapitulation all parts of the self are acknowledged and integrated and the result is a more even and flowing life, all parts exposed and on board, in good alignment and willing to work things out rather than simply compensate for each other by going to the opposite extreme. It’s a great way to live.