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Cheating and Winning

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We have many examples of cheating to win.  Cheating is a form of unethical shortcuts to win.  It is prevalent at any level, individual, corporate, and in governments.  When cheating is prevalent, the tendency “when everyone does it” becomes an excuse for others to do the same.  This excuse is one of the main reasons why corruption perpetuates in developing and underdeveloped countries, because it is hard to make a living by honest means when others are getting ahead by cheating.  Everyone wants to live, get ahead.  Bribing becomes a part of daily life for even a simple act.  Bribing for admission, for a job, to expedite a process becomes normal.  But it is not limited to these countries.  Affluent countries do it in a grand scale that may or may not hurt the poorer segment of the society as bad or not deny them a minimal living condition.

“Winning is everything” is a cultural and psychological construct that allows to try to win by any means.  Especially in the western culture there is a saying that coming second is the first loser.  Winning gives the winner a false pride of power by which they begin to believe that they are above others and therefore above scrutiny.  That is equally true for a government or a head of state.  Competition, i.e. honest competition is good.  Competition driven rivalry results in innovation, better economy, and even discovery.  But it can lead to manipulation of the system resulting in cheating, corruption, etc.  Doping in sports, stealing signals in Base Ball, trying to hurt a rival to win Olympic Gold, cheating at exams, plagiarism, stealing, lying by politicians, the concept of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”, misinformation to mislead people are all in an effort to win, to get ahead, to gain power by any means.  Generally, cheating goes on at individual level.  But in a larger context, unless checked on its track, perceived power over others result in more corruption.  The cheating and falsifying perpetuate itself in a vicious cycle that can result in social division/upheaval, war, discrimination, etc.

There are plenty of examples of cheating in one form or another.  The greatest example may be the rise of Hitler by spreading lies to gain power by creating a false pride among his followers with a macho nationalistic propaganda.  If the risk is worth the reward, people tend to cheat.  At corporate level Enron’s trading practice, Volkswagen’s emission control, hurried faulty design of Boeing 737 Max are all examples of cheating to get ahead or to make more money; even those who knew about it (like independent auditor Arthur Anderson in Enron’s case) did not speak up.  Lance Armstrong felt like he was invincible and winning became like an addiction for him.  He pushed the limits of rules to win more and hoping he will never be caught.  It is the competitive rivalry that led to clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 by a hit man hired by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband.  State sponsored doping scandal by Russia in Olympic Games for its athletes is well known.

So, the carrot and stick approach sometimes lead to cheating.  The carrot is the reward, and outcome of not winning is the stick.  So, people cheat, assuming no one is watching and will not be caught, to get that reward.  When test scores determine, more than actual performance or learning, the fate of a school or a student or admissibility of a student to a school, cheating by students or teachers grading papers is not unexpected.  Even bribing by rich parents to get their children into Ivy League has been established.

It is the pressure in high performing environment that leads to cheating.  Pressure to win, win the game, win the Olympic Gold, win that contract tend to overlook people’s behavior.  So, coaches overlook the bully in his team if he or she is winning, the bosses overlook sexual harassment by an employee to a fellow employee because he or she is bringing that big contract.  So, we incentivize the wrong role models at times.  Winning at all costs tends to become the norm.  Integrity becomes a low priority.

Social environment has a lot to do with cheating, lying, corruption, etc.  However, winning by cheating doesn’t last forever.  Sometimes cheating is more hard work than trying to win by honest means.  Some hackers are a type of cheaters trying to break into your account to make money or trying to change the outcome of an election.  Hackers are technically smart.  But all their smartness is used the wrong way.  If they could work as hard to invent, discover a better mouse trap to benefit the society, they certainly could get rich the honest way.  I remember back in my high school days decades ago, many supposedly low performing students had prepared small “cheat sheets” in extremely small fonts to pack more in less space, hid them all over their body and cover them up with their clothing.  Then they would try to memorize the locations of various “cheat sheets”.  That took lots of time and effort, yet risky.  They probably could have done well spending that time and effort studying.  So, as you can see, cheating is not knew.  Cheating is perceived by some as an acceptable means to achieve a goal.

However, no matter how much pressure there is from the surrounding social environment to cheat, at the end it is personal and innate; and like an individual it is in the corporate culture, it is in the governance of a country.  I want to end this with a folk tale that I had read as a little boy.  Long, long time ago a king decided to take a bath in a pool of milk.  He had a pool dug and built for him.  Then the king one day ordered all his subjects to pour a gallon of milk each in that pool.  One person thought that if he poured one gallon of water instead, no one would notice the difference.  He was trying to win by manipulating the system.  When the king was ready to take a dip in the pool, he found that the pool was full of water.  Everyone thought the same way.  No one thought of the ultimate consequence.  That is the problem with cheating and lying.  No outside influence can make you cheat even if you lose.  Not to do so has to come from within.

Lohit Datta-Barua (USA)

Dr. Lohit Datta-Barua has lived in Houston since 1973. As an inspiring writer and contributor to social justice he continues to touch people’s lives. As of 2019 Datta-Barua has authored eleven books, six in English, and five in his mother tongue Assamese. His latest book, “One Long Journey” is primarily a story of survival and hope in the face of of adversity and social upheaval, which Datta-Barua hopes can inspire his readers. All proceeds from “One Long Journey” go for orphan welfare.

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