The Parable of the Mugger’s Sandwich

The following is a fictional story, hence why it’s a parable.



One evening, a long time ago, Joe Citizen was freely travelling the roads on his way home from work. Suddenly, a dark figure emerged from the alley. Joe was startled, and before he could do anything else, the stranger asked him for the time. Naively, Joe glanced at his watch, but before he could reply, a revolver was pressed against his temple. After taking all the money Joe had on him, the mugger quickly fled.

Shaking from the anxiety he felt at just being robbed, Joe didn’t know what to do. The money that was stolen from him was worth half a week’s paycheck, so Joe soon became concerned about how he was going to pay his bills. Knowing little else about what to do, Joe proceeded to continue on home.

Meanwhile, the mugger arrived at his lair and showed off the loot to his fellow thieves. Upon seeing how much was stolen, they advised the mugger that he should temper the shock of the robbery itself by buying Joe something that showed that he wasn’t really that much of a bad guy. Seeing this as a way to possibly escape the natural justice of the surrounding community, the mugger went to a delicatessen and bought a sandwich.

Only a little later, Joe was surprised again by the mugger’s reappearance. This time, Joe flinched, but his curiosity was peaked by the fact that the mugger extended his hand, revealing a sandwich. Perplexed more than anything, Joe asked the mugger why he wanted to gift him a sandwich, especially in light of their previous encounter. Discovering that the sandwich was bought with the proceeds from the mugging (for despite his thievery, the mugger was no liar), Joe became indignant at the mugger’s audacity by knocking the sandwich out his hand and into the street.

By now, a crowd had begun to form around the two men, intrigued by the nature of their situation. Once they had learned the facts of the case (for neither of them were liars), they then deliberated amongst themselves until they had appointed John Q. Public to speak on their behalf. John subsequently announced that the mugger was not guilty of any crime because he had returned with an offer of a sandwich, which Joe had refused, despite the fact that the mugger still kept the majority of Joe’s stolen money; in fact, it was Joe who was in the wrong, because, as John explained, Joe should have been grateful that the mugger had offered a sandwich in the first place; therefore, by refusing to accept the sandwich, Joe had forfeited the rest of his own stolen money.

Bewildered by this public opinion, Joe was at a total lost as to what he could do. As everyone began dispersing, not only did John look down upon Joe, but the mugger also sneered at him, as well. Joe gradually discovered over the following days and months that the entire town had ostracized him because of the stink he had raised about his own mugging.

Some years went by, and Joe’s daughter was travelling the same route back home from work when the mugger’s son similarly robbed her at gunpoint, as well. The entire situation played out nearly identically as it had originally transpired between Joe and the mugger before, although this time it ended a bit harsher for Joe’s daughter, because she was scolded by the very same John Q. Public for wasting the sandwich. As John explained, that sandwich could have been used to feed the town’s sick children; she too, like her father before her, was soon ostracized by the townsfolk for causing a similar ruckus.

Decades later, one of Joe’s descendents chose a very different response than her ancestors before her had done. Instead of simply handing over her money, she shot her mugger at point blank range. John Q. Public proclaimed that henceforth, anyone who shot a mugger in self-defense will be burned alive at the stake, because by now, as a social custom, all muggers had offered their victims a wonderful selection of sandwiches to choose from. Despite her heartfelt protests, she was seized and bound by the same men who prowled the streets late at night. Although a few people were inspired by her execution to go punish these muggers themselves, the majority of the town decried such activities, claiming them to be lawless and criminal.

Centuries went by, and the same scenario replayed itself many times. Although the names and incidental details changed, the formula remained exactly the same, as were the public opinions announced by John Q. Public’s heirs. Never again would the town’s muggers ever be prosecuted or otherwise held to account for their crimes against the townsfolk, for as long they as they kept to the traditional precedent of offering sandwiches to their victims, then the interests of justice were satisfied, as far as the conscience of the community was concerned.

And everyone lived miserably ever after.

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