When It’s Ok To Cheat

Many people say that if you cheat you’re only cheating yourself. I disagree. While there’s an element of truth to this it’s also an overstatement. Before we talk about when this rule doesn’t apply, however, let’s discuss a few situations in which it does.

  • Your health and athletic endeavors. Giving anything less than your best in this area of your life is in fact cheating yourself. Not doing your plyometrics when coach isn’t looking? Good luck maintaining your hustle when the game’s on the line (not to mention the fact that you’re setting an example for your teammates that it’s ok to slack off).
  • In a relationship. There’s nothing wrong with polygamy in itself, but the problem occurs when the other person believes the two of you are in an exclusive relationship. You could argue that the other person may be happier getting 50% of your commitment, than being alone or getting 100% of someone else’s commitment, but it’s inevitable you’ll screw things up at some point, and things will fizzle out. This path screams bad karma.
  • In anything else that’s important to you. If you want to learn a foreign language you’re only cheating yourself by not maintaining your study habits. If you want to become better at writing you’re only cheating yourself by not picking up the pen as often as you should be.

The idea is that cheating is wrong primarily when it’s done out of laziness. Cheating can be ethical in many circumstances, however, when it frees up time or resources that could (and will be) better spent improving the world.

If you’re set on becoming a psychologist, and your history teacher tries forcing you to memorize dozens of dates from World War II it may be in your best interest to cheat.

If it’s going to take you 2.5 hours of studying to learn what you need to know, consider what else you could accomplish in that time. You could read 100 pages of a Psychology related book, study for a more useful class, or volunteer your time talking with lonely people at a nursing home.

Of course, you’ve also got to take into account your odds of getting caught, the potential downsides of not knowing ‘x’ knowledge, and whether you’re in a math or language course that builds upon itself, and causes cheating to come back and bite you later.

Many times, however, you’ll find that cheating to avoid the process of rote-memorization is actually in the best interest of your development.

The two obvious exceptions are if you’re going to waste the time you would have spent studying anyway, or if you’re just being lazy and the information is actually relevant to your life. If you’re trying to become a doctor please don’t cheat on your anatomy tests and if you’re trying to become a Spanish teacher don’t cheat on your verb conjugation quizzes.

Overall, realize that like most things cheating isn’t a matter of black and white, but gray. School seems to be an obvious example of when it’s a potentially moral decision to cheat, but others exist as well.

Was it right for Robin Hood to cheat the system by stealing from the rich to feed the poor? Is it unethical for a poor man in the ghetto to sell crack to feed his daughter?

I think that generally if it’s done not out of laziness, but out of the intention to best serve the world (obviously not harming others with your cheating), and fuel your own personal development it’s ok to cheat. There’s many stances you could take, and I’d love to hear your arguments on when it’s ok to cheat or bend the rules in the comments below 🙂

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