House MD said it first “Everybody lies; the only variable is about what.”
This weekend’s Wall Street Journal (26-27 May 2012)–states that research confirms this as truth.
“Everyone cheats a little right up to the point where they lose their sense of integrity.”
According to the article–“very few people steal to a maximum degree, but many good people cheat just a little here and there.”
They pad their billable hours, underreport their earnings to the IRS, claim higher loses on insurance claims, pocket a little from the cash register, walk out of the store without paying, copy test answers, plagiarize someone’s intellectual property, and the list goes on and on.
Already in the Ten Commandments, we see the fundamental precept of “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Yet according to the research, people’s dishonesty is enabled by their disposition to:
– Rationalize away the crime.
– Overshadow it with previous immoral acts.
– Excuse the behavior by stating that everyone does it.
– Minimize the significance of the wrongdoing.
– Claim it is necessary or for the greater good.
Interestingly, factors that we would think would have a big impact on dishonesty, don’t–such as either the amount of money to gained or the probability of being caught.
Apparently, the cost-benefit calculus is not the driving factor in wrong-doing, but rather the absence of “moral reminders” and of enforcement/supervision is what creates the fertile ground for people to do the wrong–whether because they can, for the thrill of it, or because in their minds it “levels the playing field.”
Everyone has the capacity for evil and to do wrongdoing, but the vast majority of the people with the right moral guidance will do mostly the right things.
“Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behaviors of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations”–these are greed and fear.
One one hand, greed drives people to push themselves and work hard, but it can also be used to go overboard to the point of acting dishonestly–to take what is not theirs and to lie about it.
On the other hand, fear of losing our integrity keeps people’s unbridled desires in check and perhaps even motivates us to give back to others, but fear can also can inhibit people from giving it their all.
The ongoing interplay between greed and fear long known to drive financial markets are the underpinnings for our own moral tug-of-war.
Balancing greed and fear is a powerful embrace that can propel humankind powerfully forward with drive and motivation or undermine its very existence through inhibition and dishonesty.
Reading the article and the underlying research was upsetting to me to see that so many people can be swayed seemingly so easily to have such little integrity.
And while most situations in life are not “black and white”–they are complex shades of gray–people can be tempted to rationalize even when they really know what they are doing in misguided.
This is the ultimate personal challenge for all of us–to maintain our integrity in the face of all temptations and readily available excuses out there.
G-d speed in making good moral and productive choices.
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Gerard Stolk)