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Character Matters Part 6

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The maxim “Honesty is the best policy” is challenged—perhaps the word should be trashed. Frederick V. Malmstrom and David Mullin explain how reluctant we are to speak up even when deceit, lying and cheating are not far from us at the highest levels of business and government, such as in the New York City Police Department, Enron, the Tour de France, and the school systems of Atlanta, New Orleans, and the District of Columbia. Their research of our national service academies--the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy-- impressively illustrates this. For example each of these school’s honor code states reads specifically, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” Our nation’s best and the brightest young women and men are to be intolerant of dishonesty. Their findings, as well as scandals within their campuses, have shown that they fall short on intolerance for dishonesty. (See the summary of these findings in the box below.)

The Service Academies and Toleration of Dishonesty
By 2010 the effective rate of admitted toleration of dishonesty by graduates of all three major U.S. service academies (Army, Navy, and Air Force) violations had risen to 65%. What’s more, for the first time the rate of toleration of dishonesty had outstripped the rate of self-admitted honor violations, 65% to 55%. This is in clear contradiction of their honor oath, for large numbers of cadets and midshipmen no longer consider toleration of dishonesty as dereliction of duty.
1. Toleration of dishonesty seems to be an especially sticky problem at all three major U.S. service academies, and our calculations also show toleration quickly leads to cynicism. Results from a longterm survey returned from 2,465 service academy graduates from the classes of 1959 through 2010 showed that toleration of dishonesty is by far the strongest predictor of personal dishonesty, accounting for a whopping 50% of variance. Toleration is equally predicted by the following factors: (1) Lack of respect for the honor codes, (2) Lack of resolve (lack of courage) to either report or confront others’ dishonesty, and (3) Subsequent lying, cheating, and stealing by the academy graduates. In other words, personal toleration of dishonesty almost inevitably led to cynicism. –“Why Whistleblowing Doesn’t Work: Loyalty is a Whole Lot Easier to Enforce than Honesty” by Frederick V. Malmstrom and David Mullin in Skeptic Newsletter, August 13, 2014.

There are several factors at play within a group and organization when it comes to coping with wrong doing, such as cheating by free-riding rather than carrying one’s load of work to be done. This is to say that individuals may elect not to speak up about what they think isn’t right because of loyalty to the group/organization, or from a sense of duty, and or because of fear of reprisal. Sometimes even swallowing what isn’t fair rather than confronting individuals who don’t do their share or are irresponsible is because you don’t want to be labeled as a trouble maker or not a team player. Free-riders may justify their cheating by saying it isn’t really cheating in not pedaling, everyone loafs some of the time. Cheaters often justify cheating by reasoning that’s what you must do to get ahead or just survive. Those who tolerate what they know isn’t right, after that is found out may say they were loyal to the group and didn’t want to upset it. This is to suggest that self-managing a small group is a balancing act between maintaining harmony and confronting unfair allocation of and carrying out member responsibility.

One of the ways to make honesty and dishonesty important is for a group to set forth its expectations about communication and accountability. More formally that is called a Code of Conduct. Even gangs have codes of conduct; most important of those is a Code of Silence. A Code of Silence states that loyalty to the group comes first and no gang member cooperates with authorities--You will not snitch. Breaking the code of silence can result in severe punishment, expulsion and even death.

Some religious leaders, like business and government leaders, have protected their own and covered up wrong done by clergy rather than have welcomed whistle blowers. So it is that the Code of Silence has affected even those who preach that the truth shall make you free.