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I just went to the local Jewel-Osco to grab some groceries. (And yes, these groceries do connect to documentaries.) Fresh grapes and oranges, an assortment of antipasto from the olive bar, the longest loaf of French bread I’ve ever seen, and some other delicious but healthy foods. As per my usual preference and due to the ridiculous long lines at the cashiers, I headed to the self-checkout, whereupon I fumbled to look for my Preferred Card, but to no avail. (I found it just now – it had simply fallen out of my wallet into my purse.)

When I came to the grapes and the antipasto, the stuff that was sold by weight and didn’t have a bar code, I got really confused all of a sudden because I couldn’t find the codes, especially on the olive bar container. Eventually I figured it out, but at that moment I realized how easy it would’ve been for me to just slip the items into my bags without paying for it. The grapes, because they were heavier, may have caused the weight sensors to go off, but the antipasto definitely could’ve escaped. But see, I’m a ridiculously honest person. This honesty stretches from honesty in dealings with others and in trade transactions (yes, I’m the type to hand wrong change back to the cashier) to being blatantly and sometimes brutally honest with my opinions (I see this as both a positive and negative attribute). And so, of course, I stood there trying to find the codes for the items, even as other customers began to form a line behind me.

But the point of this is not my honest nature, but rather how interesting it would be to make a documentary on the extent or lack of honesty people show when in situations where they are not being watched. Sure, you probably wouldn’t want to be caught on camera swiping a little something, cheating on your chemistry final or slacking off in your spinning class, but let’s just say we’ll blur everyone’s faces. How honest are we as a nation? Are there differences with the various demographic groups? How close do other people have to be to have an effect on this dishonest behavior? Can we even make any conclusions about honesty? These and so many other questions would direct such a documentary. This idea reminds me a lot of the work done by environmental psychologist, marketing strategist and author Paco Underhill. In his bestseller Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, he chronicles how he and his employees would inconspicuously watch shoppers and record their behaviors, a shopping sort of ethnography, if you will. His notes are then interpreted into marketing strategies, but if we were to document the honesty of people in stores, we could, if nothing else, reduce the stores’ shrinkage, which is quite costly to the stores and really, the economy as a whole. Outside of stores, there are also interesting ways to investigate and document honesty as it occurs.

Start reflecting. How honest are you?

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