The word integrity derives from the Latin word integer. In mathematics, an integer is a whole number – examples include 1, 2, 3, etc... An integer has a definite value. One can both count on them and with them. This same wholeness and trust can be placed on people with integrity. One can count on them. The wise surround themselves with people of integrity.
Last week, sports again provided examples of the importance of integrity. One of these is reminiscent of Greek tragedy. After years of aggressively denying doping allegations Lance Armstrong came clean to Oprah Winfrey. At least six of his seven Tour de France victories were won as a result of a systematic program of taking performance enhancing drugs and blood doping. His vehement denials and attacks on those who accused him illustrate a shameful pattern of dishonesty. Being stripped of his titles is certainly deserved; however, the loss of Mr. Armstrong’s integrity makes this story rise to the level of tragedy. His cheating resulted in subsequent serial lying necessary to cover his tracks. This downward spiral eventually consumed him in the shadows of deceit and darkness. Hopefully he has taken the first steps to become free and climb up into the light – only time will tell.
One of the most disturbing statements from Mr. Armstrong was that he did not feel that his use of drugs and doping was cheating because he felt everyone was doing this. Breaking the rules was necessary to compete and certainly to win. A similar situation was described by the participants of the 1988 Seoul Olympics’ one-hundred meter race in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary 9.79*. In that race, Canadian Ben Johnson won with a world record time of 9.79 seconds only to be disqualified by a positive drug test after the race. Six of the eight runners in that race have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. Those who admitted to using drugs said they did it because it was necessary to compete and win. Former world-record holder in the 100-meters, Calvin Smith, stated that he knew others in the race used drugs, but that was not the “Calvin Smith way”. Smith, the eventual Bronze medalists in the 1988 race, never failed a drug test in his career – something even the eventual Silver and Gold medalists after Johnson’s disqualification could not say. Integrity means being true to one’s values and not altering those values to fit the situation. Persons with integrity resist the temptation of moral relativism.
Unfortunately, cheating is not limited to sports. A number of reports paint a disturbing picture of academic dishonesty across the United States. Wilfried Decoo’s, Crisis on Campus: Confronting Academic Misconduct, shows that the majority of students report cheating in middle school or high school and continuing into College. This cheating can range from looking off a neighbor’s paper, searching the Internet for solutions to math problems, taking others work as your own, or even hiring others to do the required work. Copy and paste combined with the easy availability of digital information on the Internet make it all too easy to give into the temptation of plagiarism. The Internet also provides an avenue for global cheating services that will write a custom essay or take an on-line test. A few clicks and a credit card can begin a path down a road similar to Mr. Armstrong’s “juiced” Tour de France victories. However, unlike a race, academic dishonesty harms the cheater most. A grade not earned translates into skills and information not learned. At some point, there may be a test of those skills in a professional setting in which the stakes will be higher than a letter on a piece of paper.
While history may not uncover all instances of cheating and we can all find an example that will falsify the old adage that “cheaters never prosper”, the piece of mind and personal satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing in the right way lasts much longer and provides more security and happiness than even the most rewarding “ill gotten gains”. Better to have a fairly-earned Bronze metal than a Gold that required breaking the rules. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world in which we are judged only by the content of our character. Integrity is a choice, an exercise of our free will, and a measure of our character. Those of us who have faith in an eternal existence beyond our own, know that our choices have consequences. Whether or not we are caught, there will be a judgment. While the saga of Mr. Armstrong may make entertaining theatre, like the Greek tragedies, important lessons should be learned from his story.
Dr. John Smetanka,
Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January, 2008.