Cheating is up these days. Just ask the nation's merchants, says The Wall Street Journal. Consumers shoplift everything from jellybeans to gasoline. They sneak into entertainment venues, run tollbooths and seek unwarranted refunds.
The Journal cites a litany of examples. One Los Angeles TV network employee buys coach airline tickets then occupies empty first class seats. "It was exhilarating," he reported of one recent stealth self-upgrade. "I felt like I robbed a bank."
The National Association of Convenience Stores reports a greater-than-threefold increase this year in money lost from pump-and-flee gasoline customers who drive off without paying.
One New Jersey engineer routinely scoots through automated tollbooths without paying "on principle," because he dislikes the congested toll plaza system.
Restaurant patrons swipe silverware and wine. Discount cheaters purchase automated movie tickets by phone at undeserved senior rates.
Golfers not only adjust the lay of the ball. Some duck pricey greens fees by sneaking onto the course.
I know something about golf ethics. My childhood Miami home bordered a golf course. Occasionally, stray balls landed in our back yard. Neighborhood kids decided a ball was fair game only after the golfer had walked by without retrieving it. But it was entirely ethical, we determined, to cover the ball with a large almond leaf until the golfer passed.
What are the roots of national dishonesty? Some point to education, and statistics are alarming. Duke University president Nannerl Keohane notes that a 1998 survey by Who's Who Among High School Students found 80% said they'd cheated. 53% did not feel cheating was seriously unethical.
Writing to alumni and friends, Keohane says that 45% of Duke students have cheated at least once during college. One student who plagiarized an assignment told US News and World Report, "It's not a big deal because it's just a mindless assignment. It's not a final or a midterm."
Keohane, who seeks to beef up the university's honor code, comments that "an education that involves cheating instead of learning. . .is no education at all. . .(I)n the real world, when you set out to build a bridge or craft a legal document or begin brain surgery, just knowing what the result is supposed to be is of mighty little use in making it happen; pity the poor patients and clients!"
Her words evoke personal memories. I am grateful to my parents, my secondary school and my faith for encouraging me toward honorable living. (I'm still learning and have a long way to go.) I credit a standard Duke "fear-of-plagiarism" lecture to freshmen with instilling my obsession with documentation. Though my editors sometimes complain of lengthy endnotes, I remain grateful to my Alma Mater for helping me become committed to rendering credit where due.
Faith in God, which also found me I college, continues to provide inner motivation. Where once I thought I had to live honorably to earn God's favor, now I find strength to act rightly because I know He loves me. But I've blown it many times.
My sophomore year, I swiped a plastic bucket from behind the lectern in the psychology lecture hall. It had been there every day during the semester. "No one wants it. It deserves to be taken," I convinced myself. I used it to wash my car.
Two years later, I encountered a statement by an early follower of Jesus: "If we confess our sins to him, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong." I not only needed to admit my theft to God. I needed to make restitution.
My booty long since lost, I purchased a new bucket and carried it sheepishly across campus one afternoon. Finding no one in the psychology building to confess to, I left the bucket in a broom closet with a note of explanation. Maybe a janitor read it. My conscience was clear.
Elizabeth Dole told the Duke class of 2000, "In the final analysis, it is your moral compass that counts far more than any bank balance, any resume, and yes, any diploma." Principles of honorable conduct have formed the basis of civilized society for millennia. Those seeking to elevate them should be commended.
Rusty Wright is an author and university lecturer who has spoken on six continents."Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;
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