Posts tagged " energy thieves "

My Job Makes Me Unpopular

April 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Sir, I’m reading one of your books, “Business Secrets from the Bible.” You talk about making your customers happy.

The nature of my work now is to catch energy theft and fine/sanction them and at the end some are not happy with me.

I’m confused, please still explain more for me.

Thank you


Dear Jide,

In the spirit of full disclosure, we must tell you that we get pretty annoyed at letters that we regularly receive from our energy provider telling us that we use more energy than our neighbors.  The tone of voice they use suggests that they caught us stealing.  As if morality were about how little energy you use.  Absurd!   If they were to send a person to our house to fine us, we would not be pleased. But we do know that this is not what your job is.  You are employed to find those who are actually stealing electricity with surreptitious and unofficial wiring to the grid.

I am sure that many of the energy thieves whom you apprehend are, as you say, not happy with you.  A mistake you are making is thinking that those people are your customers.  They are not.  Your customer is your employer.  Allow us to explain.

For many very important reasons, for maximum success, we encourage almost everyone to think of themselves as being in business for themselves.  Consider a bus driver for example. He should stop thinking of himself as an employee of the bus company. Instead, he should view himself as an independent business professional in the transport sector. As of now, he has only one customer or client, namely the bus company who purchases his services. Naturally, there is nothing stopping him from finding other customers, for instance, a weekend job driving an Uber or Lyft car.  In your case, your customer is the energy company that employs you to locate theft.  And if you do your job effectively, your customer will probably be very happy with your performance. 

Think of someone working in a coffee shop.  She must think of herself as being in business for herself because nobody cares about her success as much as she does, so she must take charge rather than see herself as a passive employee.  Her customer is the coffee shop chain that employs her.  The people who come into the shop to buy coffee are the customers of the coffee shop company.  They are not her customers, they are her job.  In most circumstances, if she makes their customers happy, she will also be making her customer happy.

Yours is a slightly more complicated situation.  In your case, making your employer happy, which is to say making your customer happy, probably means making your employer’s customers unhappy. But the majority of the miscreants you bust are probably not actual customers of your employer.  They are trying to obtain the services that your employer provides without paying for them.

Your situation bears certain resemblances to a traffic policeman.   When we are stopped for speeding, we are not happy about paying a fine and suffering any other consequences.  However, we do appreciate the police and acknowledge that they caught us doing something that is against the interests of a safely functioning society. If we don’t like it we might want to lobby our local government to raise the speed limit on a certain stretch of road.  But until it is raised we recognize that the police who stop us are doing the right thing and we are grateful to those who join the force.

Contrast this with another scenario. Certain cities in the United States employ people to clandestinely sort through citizens’ garbage cans to make sure they are correctly separating recycled material. The homeowner will be fined if the inspector discovers, let’s say, a glass bottle in the regular trash. It is public knowledge that in many of those cities, the garbage and recycle containers are all mixed together and dumped into the same landfill as there is no economically viable method for dealing with the recyclables. There is no societal good being served by that inspection or that fine. The jobs are a waste of taxpayer money and a government overreach.

What would we say to a person who asked us if he should accept such a position? On one hand, supporting oneself is an important and worthy ambition. On the other hand, taking this job—which will be filled by someone else if he turns it down—means advancing bad policy, even if it is not in an area that clearly juts into a moral and ethical dilemma as one might have, for example, if offered a job in an abortion clinic. We would probably urge our job-seeker to make every effort to look for a job that will fill him with pride and the knowledge that he is helping others rather than taking advantage of them.

Sadly, in many countries, energy theft is a serious problem that impedes progress and ultimately harms everyone.  For this reason, we feel that though your job may not make you the most popular man in the neighborhood,  in the larger picture, what you do helps your fellow citizens. 

Here’s the line of inquiry that you should be exploring as CEO of your business which is providing energy theft abatement services to your customers of which, right now, you only have one.  Perhaps you can sell your employer/customer on the idea of not only catching the bad actors in the city but also rewarding and educating the good guys.  In other words, how about if you not only detected energy bandits but also distributed pamphlets to those paying their energy bills explaining how you are trying to lower their costs by catching the thieves whose activities raise everyone’s costs.  Perhaps you could meet with neighborhood groups for the same purpose.  Perhaps your employer would pay you more if you added public relations to your duties, thus bringing them additional value.

Because you are helping transform your neighborhood into a safer, more economically vibrant and better functioning place, you should feel good about doing your job even if miscreants get annoyed when you catch them. You can see things on a larger scale than the thief you are fining.

We hope this gives you some helpful guidance,


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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