By zole4 via freedigitalphotos.net
Why do people cheat? It’s almost impossible to go through a day without hearing about some new cheating scandal. Another celebrity is cheating on his wife or her boyfriend. A politician is caught dipping in the till for personal vacations. Yet another sports hero is exposed for using banned drugs to enhance performance. Whole school districts are accused of manipulating students’ test scores. And we’re passing it on to our children.
The Josephson Institute surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide and reported that 64% of students said they had cheated on a test in the prior year and 38% did so two or more times. The Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University reported that more than 75% of college students cheat in some way on school work or exams at least once during their undergraduate careers
What’s up with that?
I don’t want to get all preachy about the rightness or wrongness of cheating from an ethical standpoint. That’s between you and your own conscience. But what is cheating doing to us from an evolutionary perspective? By that I mean, if the purpose in life is to evolve, to grow and expand and hone our gifts, what part does cheating play?
First, let’s look at why people cheat. In a Huffington Post blog about the cheating scandal in the Atlanta School District, Elaine Weiss wrote, “Cheating is just one of many responses to heightened pressure in recent years to deliver the impossible: substantially increased test scores, in short order. ” High school and college students claimed that they would be “disadvantaged” if they didn’t cheat because so many other students were cheating.
Lance Armstrong explained his illicit drug use by citing his “ruthless desire to win at all costs.” He looked up cheat in the dictionary and said, “…the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way.”
Most of us aren’t happy about cheating. We don’t want our kids graduating on the basis of phony test scores and we don’t want our athletes winning because of the latest performance-enhancing drug. We’re angry at all the Wall Street cheaters who blew up the economy. Heck, how would you feel if you discovered that your surgeon had cheated her way through med school?
No, we don’t like cheating. Yet most of us are cheaters in our own lives, right?
We cheat on our diets and fudge about our weight/height/age in those online dating profiles. We glance at someone else’s hand around the poker table and tell little white lies about why we have to leave work early. Some people swear that it’s almost un-American to not cheat on your taxes!
None of us are perfect but we need to recognize that we pay a cost when we cheat. Dr. Cheryl Hughes also wrote: “The truly scary thing about undiscovered lies is that they have a greater capacity to diminish us than exposed ones. They erode our strength, our self-esteem, our very foundation.”
Rather than pointing fingers at those horrible cheaters “out there,” it’s time to own up to the cheating we do in our own lives. Because when we cheat, we’re basically saying, “I’m not good enough on my own. I can’t do this thing.” We’ve given up on ourselves and our potential to stretch to meet the challenge in front of us. We’ve decided that winning is more important than the person we could become by striving.
The way we become more – better, smarter, stronger – than we were yesterday is to extend beyond what we thought we could to meet life’s challenges.
Is it easier to cheat on a spouse rather than face and work through the discomfort of a relationship that isn’t satisfying? Probably. But which forces you to become more authentic?
Is it easier to cheat on that exercise program you started? Maybe. But does that enhance your physical health?
Would it be easier to hit the golf ball if you nudge it out of the divot? Undoubtedly. But did you improve your golfing skills by doing that?
The choice to not cheat is not just an ethical, right vs. wrong choice. It’s about choosing to believe in yourself and deciding that you are truly more than who you think you are.