Cheating is when we try to take credit for the achievements of another person whether by looking at his or her answers on a test or by scamming taxes or unethical business practices.
I’d like to focus on academic cheating for this thought even though it applies to other scenarios.
I know the urge; we all do.
Cheating seems like it will help us; it promises to deliver the high letter grade that we feel we deserve but without the ability required to earn it on our own. Maybe we don’t have time to study or master the skill; maybe events beyond our circumstances made it impossible for us to study; maybe despite our best efforts, we don’t have the skill level to pull it off and we think that we really, really need the outcome–such as a high GPA in order to get into college.
Here’s the two-fold problem though: 1) narcissism – inappropriate love of self that puts oneself over and above all others in level of importance. Narcissism is what leads to the thought that we somehow deserve the good outcome even though we did not or cannot earn it on our own.
That is a huge problem because it is an affront to justice and truth. It prevents the people who did earn it from having their rightful place. For instance, if Todd (random example) cheats like mad and earns a place in the top 10% of his class, he probably displaced other students who should have been there because they actually performed better.
And as for truth, to receive credit for something we did not do is like replacing the siding on a house filled with termites. It may look nice for a little while, but the home is not truly whole, and it is unfit to live in.
2) The second problem is the underlying self-doubt and hatred that motivates the narcissism. The desire to achieve a top grade that one has not earned comes from a lack of authentic self-love; it comes from a soul that does not believe it is worthy in its own right; this soul only derives its sense of worth from external approbation and achievement. Hence, the cheater feels compelled to earn all As regardless of his or her actual ability because the external praise gives the cheater his or her self-esteem.
The idea that “I am still a good and valuable human being regardless of my achievement level” is highly foreign and suspect to the cheater; it is easily dismissed as sentimental fluff.
Yet fluff or not, the justice problem from the depriving another of his or her rightful place does not disappear. Neither does the wound to truth.
And as to the objection, “but if everyone else is doing it, I might be deprived of my rightful place if I don’t!” – we can only answer for our own behavior, not that of anyone else. Even if everyone else is committing murder left and right, that still does not give us a right to do it. That is what it means for an action to be intrinsically wrong; no circumstances justify it regardless of the outcome to be achieved.
If all the world cheats and we do not, we still gain something immeasurably valuable: integrity.
Honest effort and desire to learn will always lead to more authentic happiness than a report card full of As. Integrity is the A+ of reality; and cheating will never achieve that, no matter how inconsequential it seems.
Question: do you think this blows it out of proportion? Would you say there are times when cheating is okay? Or is it never okay?