What is a criminal? Most of us don't want to hear the true answer to that question. Lawbreaker, malefactor, offender, any way you spell it, a person who has committed a crime is a criminal. Perhaps we think of hardened criminals as real criminals: burglars, rapists, hijackers and murderers, repeat offenders.
But anyone who commits a crime, including admitting guilt to a speeding ticket or petty shoplifting, is a criminal. This is something no one wants to admit. The word criminal has a negative connotation. Criminals, after all, are bad people. A century ago, the majority of people in our society held themselves to a high standard of moral behavior. A person's reputation was important, and it influenced their circle of friends, their station in life and the job they could attain. Obeying the law was important and admirable.
The entertainment industry planted the seeds that changed society's opinions of crime. Crime became interesting. Crime became exciting. There were gray areas where crime might be acceptable. There were crimes where no one really got hurt, only a bank or an insurance company. Some crimes were glamorous. After television and movies came video games. There were games where the player killed for points or could die and come back to life. The aura of crime changed.
Over the years, as more and more people stepped outside the boundary of living a life above reproach, little crimes became acceptable. In an effort to help people feel better about themselves, our society has created a false set of standards about what a criminal is. There are little crimes, which we are to believe are no big deal. There are misdemeanors. Then there are capital crimes, and most of us avoid committing them in our lifetime.
Once we fall for this deception, we can lower our standards of behavior. Stealing little things like paper clips from work isn't a big deal. We can justify our actions by knowing at least it doesn't make us a criminal. Or does it?
Society has become much too lax. Chances are, most of us have committed a crime at some point in our lives. We may not be ostracized because of it. We may not have been hauled into court or thrown into jail. But each of us has an internal gauge of right and wrong. What is acceptable is not necessarily what is right. We need to be our own judge and jury when it comes to morality, and we need to be honest about what a criminal really is.