Jul 21

Our cheating hearts

With the Barry Bonds steroid scandal continuing to lead sports headlines across the country, and everyone still reeling from convicted Enron Chairman Ken Lay’s untimely demise (or was it a "timed" demise?), there now comes news of a college student survey pinpointing how our younger people justify their cheating.

Conducted by three business professors at Iowa State University, the survey identified four ways in which students rationalized their unethical behavior (i.e. cheating on tests, etc.).

In reviewing the four explanations provided by students, I was struck by how they mirrored what high profile figures in society use or have used to rationale their actions. To wit, according to the profs, the kids either distance themselves from the act (think Barry Bonds), blame someone else for it (our man, Ken Lay comes to mind), redefine it as a good thing (those missing weapons of mass destruction as justification for invading Iraq?), or conclude that the outcome (even a negative one) made cheating worthwhile (Gitmo torture techniques?).

What does it say about a society when its next generation of leaders can rationalize cheating (and have that rationalization categorized into four, neat quadrants)? It’s really not the kids who are at fault, it’s us. Our current generation has allowed ethics, morals and overall deportment to slip to abysmally low levels. And, sad, to say, I see no way in which the trend can be reversed.

As long as our media glamorize the Diddys and Bonds along with the Ebbers and Kozlowskis, we’ll continue to see our kids take the easy, shortcuts to wealth and success. And if it means cheating to get ahead, well so be it. At least the next generation wil be able to identify what kind of cheaters they are.