"Life's not fair"
(Is it okay to cheat a little?)

Life’s not fair, deal with it! This is what dad said to his four-year old daughter who complained that her brother got a bigger scoop of ice cream from the boy behind the counter. Certainly this is good advice. We live in a world where goods are not distributed equally, and probably never will be.

We’re born with different intellectual abilities, different physical abilities, different temperaments, and into different social, cultural, and economic circumstances. It’s not fair, deal with it! Some of us experience tragedies not of our making, others win the lottery. When we’re the lucky ones, we don’t seem to think it’s unfair. But to the unlucky ones, we say "It’s not fair, deal with it!" Advice to deal with it is offered generously, but rarely are we instructed on how to deal with it.

Perhaps cheating is seen by some as a survival skill that’s needed to deal with an unfair world, a way to even the score and win more of life’s rewards. Overtly, we tell our children that cheating is wrong, but it seems obvious that many believe if our salary is too low it’s O.K. to pilfer office supplies. If we think the price of bread is too high, it’s O.K. not to give the clerk the money back when she gives us too much change.

Most adults wouldn’t admit that they view cheating as a good strategy for winning. But, we do want our children to be winners, don’t we? Everybody loves a winner, except perhaps the requisite loser. Children love to win, or is it that they just hate to lose. Clearly, the lesson in cheating isn’t a hard one to teach.

In sports, for example, where winning is increasingly more important than being fair, boys and girls are carefully taught the fine art of cheating at a very tender age. At first, they’re told that cheating is wrong and will not be tolerated, then a little bit of cheating is good naturedly ignored and even found to be a tiny bit cute and clever. After all, when winning is the goal, cheating is to be expected. As the stakes get higher, and winning becomes more important, cheating becomes more blatantly condoned. The question is not whether a player acts fairly, in compliance with the rules of the game, but rather how good is he or she at cheating. The skilled cheater knows how important winning is in a given situation, and just how far to go in breaking the rules. The skilled cheater cheats with finesse and style. The skilled cheater is rewarded and admired. The good team player cooperates with teammates, and therefore cheats to increase the odds of their team winning against the other team. The good team player cheats skillfully enough to avoid getting caught and compromising the integrity of the home team. Getting caught is the sin to be avoided. Getting caught is punished and scorned. Why is cheating condoned? Because… winning is the goal.

The game playing field of course is not the only arena where competition with its agenda to win at the expense of others encourages cheating. Where there is intense competition for grades, college placements, good jobs, company promotions and a larger portion of the market share, cheating is the norm to be expected.

Life’s not fair, deal with it. What does "deal with it" mean? It seems obvious some inequities, some unfairness will just have to be tolerated. We can’t change the circumstances of our birth for example. For many however, deal with it means, "cheat"! To be a winner in a world where competition is the norm, cheating is to be expected.

The problem with cheating however, is that it promotes more cheating. The problem with an agenda to win at the expense of others through cheating is an invitation to escalate violence, coercion, and corruption.

I find it interesting that we complain when we’re not treated fairly as though we’re entitled to fair treatment without doing anything to promote fair treatment.

If the advice we give to "deal with it" begs the question, what can we do to promote fair treatment, the answer is obvious. Cooperate! Treat others fairly. Just as cheating promotes cheating, fairness begets fairness. Our behaviors have consequences.

In an atmosphere of cooperation, as opposed to one of competition, there is no agenda to win at the expense of others. Goals are set and achieved through collaborative efforts and everyone shares in the rewards of the achievement. Winning is accomplished only when everybody wins. There may not be any really big winners; there are however no big losers either. In cooperation, "deal with it" means, deal with it fairly; a kindness is repaid with a kindness, an insult or an injury is not tolerated, an apology is given and accepted, and in the best interest of fairness, violence is not escalated. When cooperation and fairness is the goal, the concept of cheating doesn’t even exist. Utopian? Perhaps. It seems obvious that life will never be totally fair. There can be no doubt however that a more cooperative world, a less violent world, would be a better, safer world for us and for our children.

If we want a safer world we will have to bury our obsession with competition and winning, an obsession that by its very nature promotes cheating and the escalation of violence, coercion, and corruption.

Life’s not fair, how do you want your children to deal with it? How do you want your neighbor’s children to deal with it?

    —M. LaCourt