Peter’s Perspective: Cheating Yourself, Cheating Others

All judgment aside, I’ve grown to accept that cheating is probably part of the human condition – good, bad or indifferent. Sometimes we are the ones who are doing the cheating. Sometimes we are the ones being cheated. Either way, cheating eventually (if not immediately) injures both the cheater and the cheated.

While the severity of injury caused by cheating depends on the circumstances — superficial, shallow, profound, grave — no repeated injury is harmless. At their most grave, repeated acts of heinous cheating (like the systematic deceit about WMDs that led us into the Iraq War) cause death. Yet, even at the lesser extreme, a superficial injury like a paper cut, if experienced daily, makes for a painful existence. As for the points in between, when we cheat on ourselves or others, the injuries we cause contribute to an already existing population of wounded spirits, wounded emotions and wounded bodies.

To be clear, cheating comes in many forms. The following examples illustrate many and varied definitions (printed in bold) of the word cheat:

I cheat myself when I blunt the effect of my diet by eating more than my prescribed 2,500 calories a day.

A teenager cheats when she violates the rules of copyright protection by copying a friend’s CD or software onto her computer.

A college student cheats when he defeats the purpose of a term paper by paying someone else to write it.

A teacher cheats a student when she deprives her of full information about a controversial topic, and thereby prevents her from making clear and informed decisions and choices for herself. The same can be said of a parent and child.

An employee cheats when he defrauds his employer by making a false claim on his expense report or time card.

A manager cheats when she leads us to believe, by behaviors and words that she knows to be insincere, that a decision is entirely up to us — only to veto it or change it if it is not the decision she expects.

A corporation (or any taxpayer) cheats when it defrauds the U.S. Treasury by misrepresenting its taxable income.

An athlete cheats when he violates the rules of the sport by taking prohibited, performance-enhancing supplements.

Friends, public figures and spiritual leaders cheat when they are sexually unfaithful to their partners or spouses.

A government cheats when it leads us by deceit into war.

Of immediate concern to our exploration of and commitment to guiding principles is this: When you or I repeatedly cheat on our values, and when we injure and reinjure ourselves or others in so doing, we join (or more deeply entrench ourselves among) the ranks of the walking wounded.

Personally, I’ve had my fill of being cheated, but I expect more to come — I would be naïve to think otherwise. More important, I’ve had my fill of doing the cheating, too — of self-inflicted injury — despite its short-term benefits and payoffs. I’ve learned that eventually the damage I inflict upon myself and others by cheating does add up or the truth does come out, and in the longer term, I pay out much more in wreckage to my reputation than I ever reaped in the first place.

But that realization didn’t come early on. It came slowly over time, through trial and error, and after a few devastating blows that I delivered to myself. Then as now, I live in a world in which some of our elders, our purported role models and too often our culture itself turn a blind eye to cheating, on condition that it helps achieve desired goals – profit, power, prestige, position, personal pleasure, personal gain. I’ve tried my hand at that approach, believing that is how the game is played. And I have crashed terribly, and have writhed in pain as I felt my integrity and credibility ripped to shreds at my own hand by attempting to game the system for my own benefit.

Honesty in action and word come much more naturally to me now by way of routine adherence to my guiding principle — dare to be true. I strive to make it the basis of my behaviors. I endeavor to conduct myself from a place of knowing and owning how I want to be in the world, regardless of how anyone else might choose to act or be (or want me to act or be). Mind you, my execution is not perfect. There are still the occasional paper cuts, and even flesh wounds. So, perfection aside, I strive for excellence — and that is a standard I want to meet every day.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader