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Are you teaching your kids to cheat?

In the game of cricket, there is an honour system. A batsman can be officially ‘out’ (sent back to the pavilion) in a variety of ways; but he can also choose to ‘walk’ if he feels he was out but no one noticed.

A parent recently recounted an experience in this regard. Her young son was batting, and decided to walk even though the umpire had not adjudicated him out. She was sad his innings had ended, but happy that her son had done the right thing.

Everyone did not share that sentiment, however. Another mother, whose son was playing in the same team, came up to berate her and her son for letting the team down. The argument being that there is no point leaving the field of play if no one has asked you to. Even if you were actually out. It costs the team, you see. And the whole point is to win.

Which mother do you find yourself siding with?

Many parents are these days thinking like the second mother. Cricket’s honour system has become a relic. The modern game has too much money swirling in it to be beholden to dated concepts like ethics and dignity. It is rare to find a professional cricketer walking off when not asked to. And the modern game is bedevilled by periodic match-fixing revelations – so much so that I stopped watching a sport I once loved many years ago.

Football is just as bad. Players not only try to get away with infringements, they actually try to con the referee into punishing their opponents for things they haven’t done. Some players have so adept at ‘diving’ – falling as though they have been fouled in order to win penalties – that one suspects they are actively coached in this.

And yet everyone looks away. Why? Because there is a lot of money at stake, and where money is involved, anything goes, right? As long as you don’t get caught, you should push ethics to the limit. And so even parents are coaching their kids in playing the game of life the ‘smart’ way.

Is it any wonder that whenever we have had examination scandals in this country, it is usually the parents and teachers who are the culprits? They are the ones who transact and do the deed. The supposed role models and erstwhile guardians of virtue are the ones propagating the ethical collapse. Because there’s a lot of money at stake, you see…

Allow me just a few comments on this phenomenon this Sunday. If you are teaching your kid to cheat small, don’t be surprised when your kid grows up to cheat big. Cheating starts micro and goes macro. A fake penalty earned in a game of soccer turns into cheating in a public examination, for example.

When exam cheating works, the next step is to cheat in order to land a job. By bribing recruiters and rigging selection lists, say. When jobs are gained by cheating, what ensues is cheating on the job – pretending to work without doing so, or using the employer’s time or resources for side hustles.

Once the habit of cheating the employer is set, next to be cheated is the state. Taxes need not be paid religiously, surely? State coffers are just there to be emptied, are they not, by those who provide thin air and ghost workers and briefcase companies in return for handsome procurement dollars?

And then there’s the law. That too can be cheated, and should, because rules are for honest fools. Why should any law apply to the adept cheater? Again, engaging the right bunch of wigs can usually do the trick.

And then: do you think the tenderpreneur who cheated on the pitch, cheated in the examinations hall, cheated in the workplace, cheated in the corridors of ministries, and cheated in the courts will play by the rules at home? Who’s next to be cheated? The spouse, of course. Once the habit of playing fast and loose with the rules is established, is there any need to abide by the norms of fidelity and loyalty? Not at all. Just don’t get caught.

And so back to you, the parent who thought teaching your kid to cheat was A-OK these days. Thank you for giving your society another lying, scheming citizen, one who may eat its morals and destroy its institutions. Some justice will come, though, when your cheatin’ kid grows up to cheat you, too. Don’t look surprised when your coaching comes full circle, and you too join the ranks of those hoodwinked by your offspring.

(Sunday Nation, 18 February 2018)

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