Old Quora Question String Reveals Best — and Worst — Of Human Nature

One wonderful part of platforms like Medium and other similar ones is that they offer glimpses into the vast majority of questions, problems, or domains of knowledge that are not even considered in normal Google searches. Accessing resources that focus on the vast majority of questions or topics that are hardly considered(if even considered at all) helps one to expand horizons and enhance understanding. I certainly have been able to do this in my use of Medium. But before I came here, I first came across the amazing Q & A platform Quora.com.

A wonderful premise Quora argues in it’s mission statement is: “the vast majority of human knowledge is still not on the internet. Most of it is trapped in the form of experience in people’s heads, or buried in books and papers that only experts can access.” Of course, Quora’s Q&A platform allows for this unique and quaint knowledge in the form of questions and respective answers. What have been some of the most profound insights, understandings, and fresh points I have gleaned from reading and writing on Quora for many years now? Well, some of the most striking realizations came to me early on when I perused answers to the question about a real workplace problem many around the world face How-can-I-find-out-whos-stealing-my-lunch-from-the-office-fridge? The hundreds of answers to this question reveal unique tips and tidbits for dealing with the problem. However, they also surprisingly shed light on the best — and worst — parts of human nature.

The Age-Old Problem Still Lurks

Even though the pandemic sent millions and millions of workers to a remote work environment, the return to office has also brought back the lunch hour. With lunch hour comes the age-old problem that existed for ages before 2020 — those notorious “lunch theives” who lurked in shared employee refrigerators and food spaces to sneak whatever food they could find. The problem is so widespread that in one 2018 poll CNBC found that roughly 18% of workers admitted to stealing a coworker’s lunch at some point. Isn’t this just frustrating and even utterly horrible for workplace environments around the world? The problem affects workplace morale and directly hits employees’ pocketbooks(that lunch came from their own resources). Technically, it is also theft.

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How can such a problem be solved? Some typical common-sense approaches might be for one or multiple employees to report the problem to HR or management. Other measures, like ordering in or leaving lunches in a secured location, might also be helpful but not an option for all. But as we all know, common sense and reason do not usually have the last word. HR or managers may prove ineffective as they usually have enough to deal with while some people may try multiple options to no avail. And with the problem so prevalent, you certainly can expect employees to resort to their own devices. That is exactly what many Quora writers revealed.

It’s understandable that people get upset if their coworkers (or roommates) constantly eat their food. Maybe an effective recourse might be what this writer’s mother did — make dog or cat food chili for those bandits to try.

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Perhaps that seems a little extreme. Could you get by with just posting a picture and using another ingredient that LOOKED like the dog or cat food?

And then you have the answer that suggests adding Jamalgota to the dish. This plant, used in moderation for many health conditions, can also deliver some of the most horrendous side effects. These can include violent nausea and vomiting as well as swollen mucous membranes. Certainly, the unsuspecting lunch thief who comes across this plant in excess could be expericing much more severe consequences than corrective action. Another answerer told the story of how he added Carolina Reaper pepper bits to a sandwich. The culprit was found a couple of hours later to be reporting esophageal spasms and had to be admitted to the hospital(it was a hospital break area where this answerer worked). HR soon confronted the answerer about his “spiking” the lunch, but the answerer played dumb and pretended he liked extra spices on his sandwich. (Plus, how could he be blamed for this was his OWN lunch). The answerer was fortunate that the effects of his revenge were not worse. This super-spicy pepper is reported as as many times hotter than even a habanero pepper. In very rare instances, patients have experienced much more severe side effects from the pepper including esophageal ruptures or even heart attacks. The revelations from these answers are clear — sometimes people retaliate to negative or toxic things with even more drastic measures. But clearly it is not worth the dire consequences. You can learn to cope with “lunch thiefs” by choosing to keep a packed lunch safe in your vehicle or eating out. You can’t cope with living with the guilt and pain if you knew your actions led to someone facing life-threatening health emergencies.

Now before you pull your hair out in angst about how so many people’s worst monsters were released in these answers, let us explore some writers who actually will restore your faith in human kindness and compasison. So many writers, like this answerer, called out the cruelty of others before they offered a lesser cruel option — put cockroaches or other bugs in the food. This may seem a little extreme also, but at least the poster recognized it was not harmful and offered a more humane strategy. Another poster mentioned the very creative invention of anti-theft lunch bags. Basically, these are coated in green dye to make it look like there is mold in the food.

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One answerer gave another alternative — just buy a lunchbox that locks on the outside. Another creative answer for our technological age was just to get an old smartphone and install a camera app on it. Once you see the culprit on your current smartphone with the “receiving app,” then you can take a snapshot and kindly confront the “lunch bandit” or take the issue to HR. Another answerer shared this strategy as well and even suggested posting pictures of the culprit around the office. This can assertively address the topic head on (just make sure you check with management or HR before you post any pictures).

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Another element to add here is compassion. What if lunch bandits are unable to afford their own lunch? One writer shared how her old workplace had a fund for workers who worked part time or could not afford to make ends meet. This not only helped reduce the need for theft, but it addressed the deeper problem head on. Another anonymous writer shared the idea of bringing extra food to share. They added a point that so wondrously illustrates the moral principle of turning the other cheek:

“I was a poor student living in shared house with 5 people and someone used to eat food when I’m not there. I used to get angry get frustrated but realized getting angry or looking for revenge is no good. You never know what that person maybe going through, there might be some financial, mental, household stresses that person going through and you can just make it worse by taking revenge.”

Clearly, in a negative or even toxic workplace environment where employees are stealing personal items from one another, it may even become completely natural to want to seek revenge. And as the phrase “hurt people hurt people” rings true, sometimes a relatively minor and common occurrence like “workplace lunch theft” can inadvertently bring out someone’s even darker monsters. But the Quora answer feed to this common workplace problem also reveals the immeasurable goodness inherent in each person. So many answerers tapinto their inner resolve to change a toxic cycle in kind, creative, and compassionate ways.

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