Cheating is no longer a barrier to fame and fortune. It may even be a ticket to a healthy career.
One mistake – or a lifetime filled with them – is quickly forgotten by a public more focused on celebrity than ethics.
In a matter of days, two men will have dropped their pants in public and hope that we only remember the good, not the bad.
Lance Armstrong will tell the world that he’s sorry about some things he’s done, but is expected to clam up about the details. That’s because he’s very, very, very sorry for his actions, but he’s not quite sorry enough to make an admission that could send him to jail or see him successfully sued in civil court. The following video makes it clear these are valid concerns:
Is Armstrong sorry about what he did or is he just sorry he got caught?
While that’s a crucial question, the public at large will carry on. Armstrong could be named as a judge on American Idol next week and he’d be greeted by rapturous applause.
Why? Because he’s famous, and that’s good enough for celebrity worshippers. Plus he said he was sorry, even if that admission was preceded by a thousand opportunities to come clean.
The poster boy for apologies is Bill Clinton. Bill had sex with an intern and lied about it under oath. But then he said he was sorry and the problem didn’t just go away, his popularity ratings soared.
We get the role models we deserve; not just in politics and sports but in the arts, the sciences and the business world.
As society stands gawping with its mouth hanging open, waiting to hear the latest about a TV personality’s bad behaviour, we’ve given up punishing unethical or even illegal acts. All the attention actually turns bad behaviour – like cheating – into further celebrity.
The public watches to see how cheaters are penalized, and when we see there is no penalty for cheating – in bed, in a boardroom or on a bike – the deterrence is lost.
The sickest outcome is that our kids watch and learn too.
Last week the director of Toronto’s public school board, Chris Spence, was caught plagiarizing written materials and speeches. He eventually resigned, but not before bartering for seven months in severance pay.
Sorry about the plagiarism, but not so sorry that he could walk away from the money.
Maybe Spence’s career in education is over. Maybe he’ll end up flipping burgers for the rest of his life. I don’t wish the man any ill will, but days at the burger grill would send kids a message about the cost of making willful mistakes.
And if Mr. Spence is offended by that suggestion, well, I’m very, very sorry.
Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images