Saturday, June 16, 2012

The social cost of con artists

Several years ago in Barcelona airport I got conned. A man with a perfect English accent walked up beside me while I was walking between terminals. He told me his hard luck story about having arrived at the wrong airport and not having the money to get to the right airport (Girona). The bus was leaving in half an hour and he needed to get on it. This situation occurred to me a year earlier so I was immediately sympathetic with his plight. I gave him the money and continued on my way.

As I walked and turned it over in my mind several aspects of his story seemed to unravel in my mind. I turned around and headed back. Sure enough I saw the guy wandering through the terminal casually, nowhere near the bus stop. I walked along the outside of the terminal watching him through the glass, then I stepped inside, determined to confront him. He went out of my sight for a moment as I rounded one of the information booths. When I arrived on the other side he was gone. I searched and waited but he didn't reappear, some sixth sense had told him I was after him and he had fled.

As I reflect on this incident now I am aware of the fact that I am  considerably more suspicious of anyone who asks me for help. Perhaps you think I am a fool, and that this was a lesson I needed to learn. My thought is that I would like to live in a world where we have compassion for each other, and gladly give help when it is asked for.

The social cost of con artists is a great deal more than mere money. If money had been stolen from me I would have been angry, and I might have become more vigilant in my security, but I would not have become hardened with suspicion against people who ask for my help.

The legacy left by con artists around the world is a society where people care less, and view people in need with suspicion and hostility. For this reason I consider them the most despicable humans that have ever lived.