George Gerbner, over several decades, has argued that violence in the media leads us to think of the world as a nasty place, to overestimate the dangers surrounding us, and to trust our fellow citizens less–a problem he has termed the “Mean World Syndrome.” Lauren writes that she had her car “broken into” last night, but that the thief took only some change and a lighter, leaving CDs. She doesn’t make the assumption I would–that the thief didn’t like my musical taste–but instead wonders whether there can be a “kind thief.”
I heard similar stories, especially in Seattle, where there is a substantial homeless and runaway population. Seattle tends to be fairly progressive in the ways they handle this, including giving free telephone messaging services to the homeless and installing giving meters to help make panhandling more effective, and you would sometimes hear of petty theft that was relatively non-destructive.
The thing is, this kind of kind theft never shows up in the newspapers, so we never hear about it in a more pervasive way, and are left assuming that crooks are always savage.