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You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two*

stealing

One of the classic adolescent rebellions played out in homes around the world involves the interpretation of limits. Taking the car out at 12:01 AM is not technically driving at night. Having friends over to ‘study’ isn’t really having a party. The teen, having recently acquired the ability to discern shades of grey, knows exactly what they’re doing. They know that the intention of the ‘night driving’ restriction has to do with the dark and not the time. They know that they are not to have friends over when there is no adult present. But one can admire their commitment to the job of testing limits and tormenting parents. That is the point of adolescence (that and moving themselves and their packed bags closer to the front door). But what about full-grown people who engage in the same rule/law/ethics interpretations? How did they get stuck in an adolescent developmental stage and does it apply to all areas of their lives?

Does the president of the Academy of Arts & Sciences have her staff falsely claim her to have a doctorate on grant proposals, then dare them to pierce something? After stashing close to half a million dollars in an off-shore account does the U.S. Trade Nominee then swipe a twenty out of his mom’s wallet? As the Military Joint Chiefs of Staff defend their male dominated, hierarchical, and abstruse approach to sex crimes are they texting each other about getting with Senator Gillibrand? There are times when skirting the letter of the law and finding creative solutions is admirable. Many examples come to mind within institutions catering to the vulnerable. Hospitals are notorious for rules & regulations that may not always be beneficial to a patient. Social services agencies can at times be more rules than reason. Schools become increasingly rule-bound with every semester. We are often put in the position of reinterpreting or bypassing rules (or even laws) when the situation warrants it.

And this is when things get sticky. A mature adult with a sense of communal responsibility and an interest in the world should be able to discern between personal benefit and compassion/public good. Letting your dog off the leash in a populated park may make the dog happy, but mostly it makes you feel like a cool dog owner. Smashing the window of a parked car to rescue a dog from a sun-baked death is for the benefit of the dog. Both of these acts are against the law and only one poses a potential danger to others (the leash-less dog). We are continuously enacting laws or fines to encourage people to act decently. The very fact that we need to approach decency from the outside in is problematic. Parents everywhere will tell you how exasperating this is as they engage in it day after day after day. Time-outs begat no phone, begat no car begat grounding. Parenthood can at times seems like a progression of creative external incentives to do the right thing.

Isn’t the idea of adulthood that we’ve now internalized decency? Don’t we pull up our big boy/girl pants and realize all we have is our word and reputation? When we decide to lie (and lying is always a decision) about our credentials (on resumes, Linkedin, proposals, and in interviews) do we honestly think that no one will find out? Are we making a conscious decision to be seen as not just less qualified but a liar too? When we put money offshore, presumably having decided that we’ve already paid what we care to in taxes, do we not worry how that will be perceived? In essence the law that allows for this form of tax evasion is no different than many other less sexy loopholes. We all know that some level of corruption exists in enabling these rules and laws to exist. When we avail ourselves of a corrupt, personally beneficial act, we do so knowing we are harming others. That we teach our children (by our act) that this is a decent way to live is baffling. But that we can consider ourselves suitable for public office is simply loony. That we can look at military brass behaving abhorrently and hear the strains of ‘boys will be boys’ in our heads tells us everything.

Children will be children, it’s their job after all. And teens will be teens. But will adults be adults? What becomes of a society that is mired in adolescence? Impulse driven self-absorbed, risk tolerant behavior is very scary when it lacks parental oversight. Rules and laws have their place but they can’t take the place of conscience. Nothing can.

*Oliver (1960) – Lionel Bart

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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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An Affair To Dismember

Just hours apart the head of the C.I.A. and the president (& C.E.O. elect) of Lockheed Martin have resigned. These leaders of national security organizations were driven to resign after their adulterous activities were uncovered. If you are a reader from another country you may be scratching your head at this point and wondering why people feel forced to resign because of betraying their wives. How could such a personal failing have any bearing on professional competence? Both men are reported to have had relationships with willing and of age partners. How does this become the concern of anyone, besides the aggrieved spouse?

A good place to start would be with the word; ‘security.’ The C.I.A. is pretty clear about which behaviors could compromise employees and potentially national security. Of course the very notion that an individual could be compromised by their own adultery is predicated on the assumption that the canoodling spouse believes what they are doing is Top Secret. That’s a rather illogical assumption. There are some people who conduct affairs in the open, but for most people it is more of a dark shadow, sunglasses kind of endeavor. There are mental health professionals who would suggest that the slinkiness is part of the appeal. Assignations happen in out of the way spots at odd hours because people fear being caught. If one fears being caught how can being caught a) come as a surprise or b) have the power to compromise? The very notion that discovery of adultery, in 2012, still has the power to cause someone to spill state secrets is almost quaint. The pain an adulterer causes to his spouse has not diminished in the least. But the power to scandalize has.

Is it incredibly bad judgment to engage in an extra-marital affair when your employer has made clear it’s ground for dismissal? Most certainly. But the puzzlement is that it is grounds for dismissal at all. Adultery in and of itself is destructive and hostile, but very personal. We all make terrible judgments in our personal lives from time to time. Sometimes we engage in actions or neglect that are as destructive as adultery. But shouldn’t we be allowed to weave our web of personal misery in peace?

There are jobs that by their very nature compromise our personal life. Certainly leading the C.I.A blurs the line a bit between personal and professional. A person knows that by taking a certain job they will almost always be “on.” They should probably stayed clothed in public and avoid public debauchery. But being a good spouse or parent or adult child shouldn’t be a job requirement. Cheating on your spouse is no more of a moral failing than divorcing your wife of forty years (who put you through school) to marry your 25-year old intern. How is adultery a lack of judgment but neglecting your aging parent is not?

We’ve decided that elected officials and government appointees agree to a higher degree of scrutiny and lack of privacy. But what of corporate leaders? Would anyone stop going to Best Buy because the (former) C.E.O. stepped out on his wife? Is Lockheed Martin’s ability to perform inextricably linked to their C.E.O.’s adherence to his marriage vows?┬áMaybe. But in a world of multiple corporate misdeeds and seemingly endless political corruption it can all seem like a bright and shiny diversion.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat

Have you heard? It’s all over the news: people cheat! That’s right; human beings actually cheat. Next thing you know they’ll be lying as well. (Cheating and lying being close relations of the “I want what I want” family.) All (or most) flippancy aside, we probably can all agree that cheating is hardly news, or new. There’s a good chance that the guy who invented fire was really just the guy standing behind the guy who invented fire and felt the urge to push him into the flame, create a “do you smell something burning” diversion and declare; “My word! What is this I have made? Let us call it fire.” Maybe he didn’t get enough attention as a child, maybe his father dragged his mother around by the hair one too many times, or maybe his cave was in the wrong part of town. But more likely than not, he was just some guy who wanted to be the one who invented fire.

So why in the world do we (feign) surprise when hearing of business, government or humans involved in cheating? Why is it simply cataclysmic when students (from good schools!) cheat? The recent ‘outbreaks’ at Stuyvesant High School and Harvard have sounded alarm bells in the education and parenting community. How could this happen to academically gifted individuals? The assumption is that cheating is not for people who need only work hard to get what they want. Than who exactly is it for? Cheating by any other name is simply a short cut. The notion that people with resources (intellectual or financial) would not engage in short cuts is absurd.

Of course it would appear that these pumpkin eaters are not to blame. Oh no, apparently they can not resist how very easy cheating has become. Evidently (or so the argument goes) the internet causes cheating (and pornography, adultery, obesity, gambling and shopping addiction.) When Harvard students were given a take-home exam they could not resist the sweet siren song of the internet. We must assume then that their parents and grandparents were able to resist the charms of the extensive Harvard library system because, well because Boston is cold damn it. There’s getting an A and there’s staying warm for heaven’s sake. In class cheating has been made all the more tempting with smart-phones. No longer must students burden themselves with the arduous mechanics of passing notes! Just type your question on the phone that has no business being in the classroom. And what of wikipedia?! Certainly there is no way a person could be expected to see that the operative word in “copy and paste” is ‘copy!’

Blaming the internet is fun but it’s also cheating. It is avoiding doing the real work to find the answer. Could it be that there is an increase in cheating because there is an increase in testing? Could it be that once we made every kid an honor student or worthy of a “best snack provider” trophy, we robbed them of an interest in working hard for something they want? Could it be that growing up in a world of leaders who cheat and lie with impunity has an effect on children? Maybe it’s a little of everything or a bit of nothing. But what it isn’t, is a side effect of the internet.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Education

 

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