From high school students to millionaire athletes, cheating has always been around. But 2012 saw a string of high-profile cases that brought cheating into the public eye and could even be making it more socially acceptable.
Lance Armstrong's doping scandal, exam cheating at the Air Force Academy, Goldman Sachs cooking its books and Gen. Petraeus' affair are examples of “higher levels of cheating in different spheres” says Tom Gabor, a consultant in criminology and criminal justice in West Palm Beach, Fla., which he says has a snowball effect in that it “legitimizes further dishonest behavior.”
Duke University in Durham, N.C. “Very few people can be vastly dishonest, but most people can be slightly dishonest and at the same time think of themselves as good people.” He gives the example of adding a few things to an expense report as something such a person would do.
Author Lisa Shu believes that people can adjust their own moral compasses to fit unethical behavior. For example, a series of psychological tests found that people forgot their own moral rules after they cheat.
Q: Do you think cheating is becoming more socially acceptable?
When Chap Clark wrote a book about the teenagers in our area, I was particularly struck by his sociological observations on cheating. In “Hurt,” he describes the high-stress life of an adolescent, in which multiple adults are applying multiple high standards of excellence on a daily basis, without offering the coping skills necessary for prioritization, workable scheduling, competition and dealing with disappointment. In this kind of environment, cheating becomes an available coping skill, as adolescents band together to survive a hostile adult world. When I read this 2002 study, I wondered what would happen to the future workplace when it became populated with folks for whom Survival Cheating is normalized behavior.
Maybe we were already there, with the esteemed elders of Goldman Sachs leading the way. Lance Armstrong's cheating for personal glory is one thing; cheating people out of their pensions, savings and homes is quite another. Honest people trying to stay in their homes have found themselves up against a whole corporate ethos of robo-signing, double-dealing, hidden clauses and “lost” paperwork. It makes you think that our Survival Cheaters are the only ones who are actually prepared for the real world.
How do we help each other survive and thrive without cheating? We know that God intends for us to be truthful. The prophets warn about what will happen when betrayal and destruction are the norm, and what could be if truth is the order of the day. The Gospel of John speaks of truth 24 times, because truth is an essential ingredient to soul peace and world peace. So we resist the pull of Survival Cheater Gravity and instead hang on tightly to the high road. We invest our own lives with honesty, and continue to demand it of our corporations and government. Our young people take their cues from us. Let's help them out.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
It certainly seems as though cheating has become more socially acceptable today, and I cannot deny that we have become aware of a large number of examples during the past year. Such revelations sadden me and cause me to worry about the future of our society. I believe that if we do not combat the root cause of this debilitating breakdown, we will continue to see negative consequences. But what is the cause of this erosion of our social capital?
My belief is that a major fault lies in the loss of a sense of community and a feeling of compassion for our neighbors. We have become isolated from each other in a multitude of ways, with numerous acquaintances but few real friends. It is easy for me to see that such isolation and lack of trust could lead to the belief that our actions have no real consequences. Why not cheat, if we have no sense of our actions affecting real people? In such a case, cheating becomes separated from morality because ethics require a belief that others will be harmed by our actions.
I am convinced that religious congregations can help to mend the torn fabric of our society. We can become places where people are welcomed and connected to each other in meaningful ways, where they find love and compassion for themselves and each other. Until we believe that we are connected to each other and that what we do affects us all, we will continue to sabotage the health of our society and each other. As people of faith, I hope that we can build a beloved community and heal the world before it gets any worse.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills