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Let’s Be Honest

Updated on January 7, 2010

Cheating Gets You Nowhere

“Have you ever thought about leaving a legacy and how you will be remembered when the present becomes the past? Does the achievement of our goals for success in life matter more than the manner in which that success is achieved? There’s no question that we all set out to be successful at whatever life has in store, but at what expense? Does it really matter if we might have to be a little dishonest at times or if we have cheated a tiny bit to get ahead?  Would it be different if that’s what it took just to keep up?”

So starts the principal’s editorial in the latest issue of my son’s high school newsletter. There is no “How time flies”, no “Congratulations”, no “Thank you so and so”, or any other routine pleasantry. This is serious, stern scolding.

This came as a shock to me. Ever since the information session, I have been convinced that besides academic excellence, this school also emphasizes on integrity and trust. It even practices “open-locker” policy. Walking through the hallway, you can see that all the lockers are indeed unlocked, and no one seems to worry if his stuff is exposed in plain view. Students who managed to make it to this place are expected to excel, not just “stay in school”. So when the principal speaks like this, something must be up.

It turned out, some students managed to take advantage of the class schedule and cheated in a small quiz, which after it was discovered, prompted the principal to ask: “Is it worth it?”

The question may not be as simple as it seems. In an ideal world, everyone gives his best efforts and gets the results he deserves. You go far because you work hard; you lag behind because you might have slacked off. Everything is fair and square. And honesty is a virtue.

However, the world we live in is not, and never will be perfect. Success is not measured by efforts, but by results. You can still achieve these results with hard work and smarts, plus some luck. Of course, there is no guarantee that your work will pay off. Mix money, fame, social status, and a dash of greed, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for dishonesty – let’s cheat a little, it’s harmless, and it may work out great!

We have seen certain professional athletes, with necks thicker than many people’s thighs, belting baseballs out of the park day after day, and therefore receiving fat contracts, big commercial endorsements, and apparently secure Hall of Fame berths. However, it is no secret that their curiously superb performances have mostly been the result of banned substances.

We have also witnessed the incredible rise of Enron and WorldCom. Until the early 1990’s, they were still little known also-runs stumbling for direction. By using some “smart” tactics to hide losses and inflate earnings, in a matter of a few years they vaulted themselves to the top, and quickly became the Wall Street darlings at the turn of the twenty-first century. The top executives, of course, were perceived as business geniuses and great visionaries, while their pockets swelled with filthy wealth.

They had achieved what they considered success by deceit. But is it worth it?

Well, after the most recent doping scandals broke, facts found from various investigations clearly implicated those athletes. Some of the apparent future Hall of Famers were actually forced to testify at congressional hearings, in front of national television. They have become the butt of jokes on late night talk shows, and are being called all sorts of names for a cheater. No matter how hard they try to deny the allegations, whatever records they had previously set will forever carry an asterisk and a footnote next to them. They have disgraced themselves and may even have to face certain health risks down the road.

And we all know the fate of Enron and WorldCom. They became even more famous when it was revealed that the mind-boggling “success” that they had had been sustained mainly by systematic and well-planned accounting fraud. These once high-flying companies have since crashed and landed in bankruptcy, bringing along with them tens of thousands of their employees and investors. As for their top executives, the former head of WorldCom has been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison, while those who had run and ruined Enron are still on trial, possibly facing a similar fate.

Going back to the high school case, the students cheated just to pass one small quiz. There was no harm done, right? It happens everywhere these days anyway, so what’s the difference whether I cheat or not? The truth is, everyone would agree that character building starts young. You could cheat at home just to get an extra piece of chocolate; you might cheat at school just to pass an exam; and you will probably cheat at work for a promotion. Then what? You see the trend, and you see what’s coming. Honesty is a virtue, and dishonesty carries consequences. Those cheating students have seen their “good” scores erased, and more importantly, they will never be regarded the same way again.

So why cheat? Isn’t it better that we are all just a little more honest? 

By the way, among those who were found cheating in that quiz, some of them had been scheduled to be inducted into the National Honor Society. Well, not any more.

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