Practicing non-stealing

This blog entry reflects on what it means to steal non-material assets.


Regardless of the different backgrounds and communities that we all come from, one of the values that we are taught from an early age and have in common is that of not stealing. Various religious traditions upon which many social values are based, frown upon the act of stealing what belongs to another, and historically have had hefty repercussions for stealing.

The word ‘stealing’ for many conjures an image of tangible products as involved in this process. In creative spheres, taking without permission the idea or words of another is also considered an act of stealing, thereby adding a non-physical dimension to what is stolen. We are raised to practice restraint in taking ownership of items that belong to another without seeking their permission; we grow to practice great care and caution in protecting our material possessions and invest plenty of money on security systems and mechanisms to protect our goods. i.e. safes, passwords, locks, barb wire, etc.

Extending our discussion of what constitutes stealing one level higher, how many of us often think of the relationship between stealing and non-material assets? For example, time and energy? Do you consciously refrain from stealing non-material assets? Do you have a personal mechanism to protect your non-material assets? Do you practice Asteya?

Asteya is a Sanskrit word (liturgical language of Hinduism) that means \”non-stealing.\” Like other spiritual traditions that espouse the value of not taking what belongs to another, the literal application of Asteya also embodies refraining from taking physical objects that belong to others. However, Asteya also includes non-stealing of time and energy – that precious commodity that we all have.

I was introduced to the principle of Asteya through a kind friend and mentor who brought my awareness to how I may have been stealing her time by not being present when asking for her help. What I mean by presence in this regard, is full awareness of the purpose for which assistance is sought. This encounter made me reflect on a few instances in which time and energy may be taken from us without our permission or awareness that we can prevent that loss:

Yilugnta – granted we are a society that pride ourselves with possessing copious amounts of yilugnta in an era that has become individual-centric. Yet in reflecting on the principle of Asteya I imagine that for most of us, receiving a ‘no’ as opposed to someone doing something for us out of sheer yilugnta can be more meaningful. Furthermore, as a derivative of yilugnta where exercising our right to say no becomes difficult, we are trapped in a situation of being evasive and vague – we mean no, yet we give the impression we are saying yes and lead people on. In the end, time and energy is lost on both parts trying to read the intent of the other. Practicing Asteya requires an honest reflection of intent and honest expression of that intent.

Tardiness – in an active lifestyle, time management becomes crucial where a juggling act between work, social demands and family are apportioned. We have very ‘busy’ lives. Yet it is also the case for others. Therefore, minutes of our day spent in waiting on someone to deliver on their promise is time stolen from us which can be invested towards our many other activities. Practicing Asteya involves respecting other people’s time by showing up on time where an agreement was made to meet at a particular point in time; delivering on an agreement or simply cautioning another on our inability to deliver before we are broached for it.

Non-preparation – the friend and mentor who awakened me to the principle of Asteya helped me identify in what way I was stealing time from her. In that particular instance, the request for support I made to her was not clear and was sourced in panic rather than a clear idea of how I needed that support. Lack of clarity in our requests, lack of preparedness for what we are seeking from another are forms of stealing time and energy from another. In any setting, not taking our own time to reflect on the objectives and outcomes of a meeting or appointment we have made leads to a wasted use of time. i.e. meetings for which participants or the convener of the meeting come unprepared; remains unfocused and allows tangential conversations. Practicing Asteya allows us to respect and conserve our time and energy when we come prepared and therefore also respect others time and energy.

I could probably continue identifying many other instances that fall into time and energy stealing – the relationship that has reached its end but is prolonged; the manager that calls for frequent meetings and regurgitates the same information; the friend or colleague who encroaches upon your personal time; and so on.

Mind you, stealing can also be from the self as well.

So what do you think of the concept of stealing time and energy from yourself? From others? How do you practice Asteya?

For more inspiration on some points to practicing Asteya, read the following article by Alexandra Franzen – read more.