For those of you who don’t know, long-distance running races can be decided by a matter of steps in the middle of the race. Keeping your opponent close, and in your sights, is just as important in the middle of the race as it is in the end. That’s all to give you some context for this story.
In high school I used to run cross country, and all the important meets were at a place called Bear Mountain. The second mile of this three-mile race went up into the mountain proper, a place devoid of officials but replete with clearly delineated trail markers. Despite this, it was common to cut a few steps off a sharp turn by jumping over a bush. Now, my mediocrity was legendary, so this story isn’t about me. However, I was good friends with a very talented, heavily favored runner from a rival school, who ended up coming in fourth in a very important race. I questioned him on it, and I’ll never forget what he said: “I lost because I’m not a cheat.” The three runners in front of him had cut the barrier. He never really caught back up to the pack.
This is as good a forum as any to talk about cheating. Now, bless me father for I have sinned; there were isolated times when I would peek at a person’s paper in high school for some inspiration. Fortunately, I wasn’t in a very competitive high school, so I was never tempted to systematize cheating and it was never a habit. But I’m human like everyone else, and if I went to one of those cutthroat test schools the story could’ve been different.
People cheat in life for many reasons: wanting to get into a certain school, receive a certain grade, land a certain girl, or have just that much more leisure time. It’s been rationalized in a dozen ways. I’ve had one friend claim that he didn’t want incompetent people to receive admission to elite schools in his stead just because he chose integrity. What’s wrong with leveling the playing field? Others claim it’s an issue of time. If you’re rushed, is it so wrong to Sparknote a book? Some see it as a natural part of specific classes. If you write three hundred lines of code and get no output, is it cheating to check someone else’s code? Many kids don’t even have an actual working definition of cheating. Imagine you have to write identifications on your IHUM final. Sorry, Thinking Matters final. In either case you and four friends split up the twenty identifications and put them on a Google doc. Did you just cheat?
Now cheating is obviously bad for obvious reasons. We’re at a university, and integrity is at the heart of education. That should be reason enough.
However, there’s a much deeper, much more meaningful reason to avoid cheating, in school and life. A man who cheats on his girlfriend has some clear future in mind where this makes him happier. The student at Stuyvesant or Bronx Science cheats to get into a better college and thereby be more successful. The person who cuts corners to save time clearly thinks that time will be better spent, that she will ultimately be happier.
In fact, in almost every case of cheating the perpetrator has a vision of the future in mind where they’re happier or more successful. Here’s my issue, and here’s the real reason we shouldn’t cheat. Dishonesty should never factor into our conceptions of success or happiness. And if they do, if you’re comfortable being successful and dishonest, then you need to question what your success has cost you. If you think immorality is a route to contentment then you need to question what contentment is. I’ve always found myself to be significantly happier when I’m honest with myself and others – and that means working hard, being dedicated to friends and sticking to my principles, even when there’s an easier way.
Now as I’ve said before, I’m neither a judge, nor a jury, nor an executioner. I tend to believe that people should do what makes them happy. All I ask is that if you choose to be dishonest in your dealings, double-check to make sure you’re okay with that lifestyle. If I were to cheat in order to be successful, then I would question my metric for success. Success isn’t worth sacrificing your integrity for.
Contact Chris Herries at firstname.lastname@example.org.