Monday, August 24, 2009


Our society is so increasingly complex and difficult for any single individual to fully comprehend, let alone keep up with, that we are often totally unaware of the erosion of those things which raise humans above the other animals.

Simple honesty is a classic example. We have become totally inured to being lied to by everyone from politicians to preachers to used car (--excuse me; they don't have used cars anymore; they have "pre-owned vehicles", a very big difference, indeed--) salesmen that we simply accept it. In fact, it has reached the point where one can be fairly certain that no matter what he/she is being told, it is at least in part a lie.

Cheating has become a spectator sport, and anyone honest enough to live by the rules is considered a fool. We pay lip-service to honesty--someone finding $50,000 and returning it to its owner is considered newsworthy, and that fact in itself speaks directly to my point. For every person who, given too much change by a clerk, gives it back, there are far more who say nothing and simply take it.

I've commented before on a national-chain TV advertisement which glorifies cheating. You've seen it...the frizzy-haired blond who, upon looking at her receipt, goes racing out to the parking lot yelling to her husband to "Start the car! Start the car!" because she is sure she has been undercharged. Isn't that just the cutest thing? And doesn't that send a wonderful message? Turn around and ask the clerk for an explanation? Don't be silly! How the chain could have authorized such a reprehensible ad is incomprehensible to me.

Haven't paid your credit card bill in months? Knowingly digging yourself deeper and deeper in debt every day?Totally financially irresponsible? Hey, don't worry about it! Why bother trying to cut back on spending? File for bankruptcy! (I realize, of course, that there are people who legitimately file for bankruptcy as a last resort, and I am not speaking of them.) Easy as pi. Screw the companies to whom the money is legitimately owed. They can afford it. And anyone who thinks companies do not engage in various forms of cheating their customers lives in a fantasy world.

Every night TV carries countless ads featuring people (usually couples) smiling smugly and announcing how "We owed $73,000 in unpaid back taxes, and thanks to Screwemall & Sons, we paid only $3.17!" Way to go! Now get out there and start spending more money you don't have.

Making the case against cheating is not easy, since none of us is an angel, and cheating seems to be a part of human nature. We all do it at one time or another. The problem lies in the degree of and frequency with which we cheat. For perhaps, being charitable, most people, cheating is an occasional thing involving only relatively trivial matters. But there seem to be an exponentially-growing number of people for whom cheating is a way of life and taking advantage of others an assumptive right.

The ubiquitous "but everyone else does it" excuse can be countered with by simple fact that "you are not everyone else." That "everyone else does" something does not make that something right. It is the very complexity of life, the easily blurred lines between right and wrong, that adds to the problem. For example, a good case could be made for cheating in cases where total honesty would somehow be a sincere deprivation...a needy mother not returning $5 overage in change at the grocery store, for example. But even then, though it might be eminently understandable, it would still, at bottom, be wrong.

In the end, cheating, like so much else in life, is a matter of degree, of awareness, and of intent, and the greater each of these elements, the more reprehensible it becomes. Each of us is responsible, ultimately, for ourselves and, in the matter of how much cheating we accept, not only in others but in ourselves, it is just one more indication of our true worth as human beings.

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