Skip to content

What Counts as Cheating? What is Fair Play? Do People “Sell Their Souls” to Get Ahead?

January 17, 2011

What Counts as Cheating? What is Fair Play? Do People “Sell Their Souls” to Get Ahead?

My wife’s aunt recently celebrated her 93rd birthday. She has difficulty getting out and about, so to kick off the birthday festivities I visited with her favorite Chinese food for lunch. When I walked into her apartment, the television was blaring as usual. A game show was on followed by Dr. Phil. His topic that day was cheating – “Doing Whatever It Takes.”

Dr. Phil interviewed a guest who was caught cheating to win an academic content many years ago. She and several friends got a copy of the test questions in advance, researched the answers, and memorized them. Statistically, her score on the test was improbably high but she was caught only after one of her co-cheaters voluntarily confessed.  From appearances on television, she looks to be in her late thirties today and has school-age children. And still has no regrets other than being caught.

She was full of rationalizations and reasons why it was okay. For example, she made a distinction between getting the questions and getting the answers in advance. Since she and her friends spent considerable time researching the answers, they deserved the scores they received. In her mind, this was fair, but if they had received the answers ahead of time that would have been cheating. Even so, she did not get every answer right. Another excuse was that a competing school had won the contest fifteen years straight, therefore they must have had an unfair advantage and possibly had the questions or answers in advance. This sounded like the “other people are doing it too” and “now it’s our turn” excuses.

When Dr. Phil asked this woman what she taught her children about cheating, she said she tells them “there are gray areas” and they should have a good reason. She weighs the “pros and cons” with them. What does this say about her values as a mother and adult? What kind of role model is she?

Dr. Phil then interviewed a few hand-picked members of the audience, mostly college students and recent graduates. They had their own “gray areas.” Some felt it was okay to take drugs like Aderrall or Ritalin to be as prepared as possible for an important test, so long as they were intensely studying. And some confessed to using drugs because it would be wrong to be unprepared for a test. Besides, they were competing against very smart people. They talked about the pressures of living up to parental expectations and the “standards” of their high achieving families; how teachers and professors created unreasonable pressures by piling on enormous amounts of homework. It’s someone else’s fault. Their rationalizations can also be captured in this question, “How can we possibly cope or expect to succeed in a competitive environment if we don’t seek every possible advantage, whether it’s right, questionable, or wrong?” Their feeling is that what they do is fair because the competition is fierce, especially in this economy where more people are seeking fewer jobs.

A poll conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students revealed that 80 percent of the best students cheated to get ahead. Over 50 percent said they don’t think cheating is a big deal – and most did not get caught.

In a survey by The Josephson Institute of Ethics, 70 percent of high school students acknowledged cheating on exams. Another study showed that 67 percent do and 90 percent have copied another’s homework.

An ethicist in Dr. Phil’s audience said cheating in high school is highly correlated with cheating as an adult – in the workplace, on projects, taxes, sports, everyday transactions, relationships, and other matters. He also made the point that these people are cheating others who have played by the rules and may be less “successful” by comparison. If you cheat or cut corners when performing a service or creating a product, any resulting defects can have adverse consequences and hurt others. There is a moral responsibility to others.

The prevailing ethic seems to be that the ends justify the means. Just like athletes who take performance enhancing drugs. Is this selling your soul to win or get ahead?

Toward the end of the program, Dr. Phil made excellent points. He asked, “Are you really being successful if you cheat your way to winning?” And, is it not better to be a “B” student but get an “A” in life?

Good questions. What are your values? Have you compromised them? (We all have from time to time.) When you have, how do you feel about it? Have you created “gray areas” between right and wrong? How can you live a life of greater integrity? What choices and trade-offs are you making?

On the Find Fulfill Flourish website is a free “Guiding Values Exercise.” It’s an engaging way of identifying your most important values. I think you will find it thought-provoking and helpful in identifying your core beliefs. Take it and see. Share your thoughts.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Visit our new website: Take the FREE Guiding Values Exercise. Give is feedback.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read “What Does Integrity Look Like” and “How to Strengthen Your Self-Integrity.”

Copyright © 2011, F3 Forum LLC. All rights reserved.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011 1:41 am

    Great observations. Well done on this topic, Steve!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: