Monday, April 21, 2014

Your cheatin' heart...

Guitar Ted, founder and director of the classic “unsupported” Trans-Iowa gravel cycling races recently wrote down some thoughtful and compelling observations about the likelihood of some past Trans-Iowa racers engaging in less than honorable activities (the 10th running starts this upcoming Saturday). Suspect activities such as receiving outside assistance from ones "covert support group" and other sketchy digressions were mentioned as examples of clear violations of the rules.  As all good writing does, his thoughts became the basis of an interesting discussion. In this case, the conversation was amongst a small group of riders as we cruised along the back-roads of old Duluth on Sunday.  When I got home, I decided to put ink to paper in an attempt to better articulate my thoughts on this topic of cheating.

 As a high school teacher, I deal with this issue of cheating on a fairly routine basis.  Something like 80% of high school kids admit to cheating at some point during their four years, so I know that some kids will cheat in my classes. At the onset of every class, as a kind of prompt, I always tell my students that any test, essay, or assignment that they do in my class is not worth the price of cheating.  Some kid will inevitably raise his or her hand and ask the appropriate question.  The question  goes something like this (at least I am hoping for it): “Whatz that mean? Why is your class not worth cheating for?” My response is that, “I get that most everybody cheats at some point, but smart people have learned that when deciding to cheat, ya gotta do a cost/benefit analysis.  That means that you gotta think about whether or not the awards or benefits associated with getting away with the cheating is worth the risk or costs of getting caught.”

 The next question I am hoping for is: “So whatz the cost of getting caught cheating in your class?” Now I know that they are expecting me to say something like, “Ya won’t graduate or you will get suspended, you’ll get an F or I’ll call your parents or something like that.” Essentially, what they are expecting is for me to tell them that if they get caught cheating they will be hit with some kind of formal sanction. Yet, what I tell them is this—“I’ll be super disappointed with you, I’ll probably never trust you again, chances are we will never be friends, and I’ll tell my friends and co-workers that you are a cheater.” I go on to add that, “So in this class, the risks or costs are not worth the benefit in that the reward for not cheating is my respect and my friendship...Because our friendship is way more important or beneficial than any grade can get for you in this class.” The simple, but poignant idea, of course, is that when your reputation and/or respect is at stake, the respect and friendship you have earned from your peers is priceless and so clearly not worth the price of cheating.  I may be wrong, but I honestly suspect that only a little bit cheating goes on in my classes. As for the ones that do cheat, they clearly do not enjoy the respect of the other members.  By cheating they damage their reputations. Research bears out the fact that in most situations, informal sanctions are more powerful than consequences associated with formalized punishments. 

 In fact in my sociology course, just a few dayz ago, we did a short lesson on the socio-psychology of cheating. The Atlantic Monthly dedicated a pretty comprehensive article on cheating.  Essentially the conclusion was that most people will cheat given a certain set of circumstances, but only malcontents will cheat in situations such as the Trans-Iowa, where a guy’s reputation is essentially the only thing at stake.

For one to cheat in any competition, other than perhaps in the high stakes financial realm of a few professional sports, but especially in an amateur long distance gravel road race, too me seems like the pinnacle of moral dysfunction or misplaced value.  Who the hell cares? It don't mean nothin' to nobody except the guyz doing it.  Itz the guyz that you are riding with that matters...Thatz why itz so cool...The whole thing is about the experience. To cheat in a highly cohesive, inclusive group such as those like-minded individuals in a race such as the Trans-Iowa and thus to risk one’s reputation amongst the in-group seems absurd (Note: an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member).

Thank you, Guitar Ted J

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