“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” on July 5, 1960, I was sworn in as a cadet at the United States Military Academy and accepted the Cadet Honor Code. The opening quotation above is from the Star Wars opening crawl. If asserted as true for my case, would be a lie. While I might argue that July 5, 1960 was a long, long time ago, the last time I check, West Point is in New York, USA, planet Earth, in this galaxy.
In 1960, the Cadet Honor Code, as I remember it, was that a cadet will not lie, cheat or steal. Subsequently, the words “or tolerate those who do” were added in 1970. This honor code also exists at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Virginia Military Institute. The U.S. Naval Academy as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy have an Honor Concept. While I would assert that they are all the same in concept, one may argue about differences in detail. Also, many institutions of higher learning embrace similar codes of personal behavior.
So what’s the big deal? Everybody lies, cheats and steals. It is just the way we are. Did you ever go to the bank and complete a form at the work station using the ball point pen with the bank logo on it and then put the pen in your pocket? Did you steal the pen? Once in the galaxy mentioned above (actually it was Los Alamos), I needed some pens for a Science Fair display. I went to the bank, found the community programs office and orally requested a dozen pens. The request stimulated a question about why I was wasting the community programs person’s time and why didn’t I just take them. After all, she said, the bank wanted their pens put into circulation. But what if I had wanted 10 one dollar bills?
You are filling out your tax return and are itemizing deductions, specifically the cost of a tank of gasoline in a vehicle used for business. The bill for the fill-up is $19.41 (gas was cheaper). Do you claim $19.00 or $20.00? According to the IRS, you should round down if the amount is less than one half of a unit, in this case dollars. But if the tank is filled twice at $19.47 (total $38.94) and you claimed $19.00 for each tank, you would lose $1.00 in deductions. This is a trivial example. What’s the big deal? Does it involve cheating?
Change the scenario a bit. You are itemizing business expenses and the cost of something is $195,700.00. Do you claim $195,000.00 or $196,000.00 or $195,700.00.? Since the IRS rounding rules deal with cents, hundredths of a dollar, you use $195,700.00. Or do you claim a mental error because you do your accounting in units of 1,000 dollars ($K). So you use $196K. Is your entry lying, cheating or lying to cheat on your taxes? This is why we have CPAs.
Change the scenario again. You go to work and have a water cooler discussion (ok, you go online). You “heard” from an unknown, authoritative source that your company is going to reduce its workforce by 10 percent. Do you say that company X (yours) is going to fire 10 percent of its employees or do you say you heard a rumor that company X was going to reduce its workforce by 10 percent? This is similar to the parlor game of passing a statement around a circle and comparing the starting statement with the ending statement. (As an aside, have parlors become obsolete?) Are the statements passed from person to person lies even though there was no intent or did someone intentionally add some fabricated content?
In this series of posts (five total – for now), we will examine lying, cheating and stealing on a non-personal basis (or is that a lie also?). In the above simplistic examples, none of them is really consequential or of any magnitude. Often times what we say and do is based on beliefs, knowledge, truth, intent, and who is impacted.
Till next time….