5 students are in a psychology class. They all have been preparing for a major ethics exam, and the teacher has decided to administer it in unique fashion. There is only one question on the test, and it’s the same for all the students. They all were given explicit instruction to write their answer to the best of their knowledge, and the exam would determine whether they would pass or fail. The teacher tells them that he has left his answer on his desk and will be back in 45 minutes. After that, he proceeds to leave. After he leaves, all five of the students turn over their papers.
The first student grins, then promptly writes his answer and turns his paper back over. The second grins as well and promptly walks to the teacher’s desk and writes down the teacher’s answer verbatim. The third and fourth students stare at the paper nervously. The third looks at the absolute certainty and confidence of the second student, walks up to the teacher’s desk, and looks at the answer. He copies the answer but silently decides never to do it again. The fourth sees how dejected the third looks after reading the answer and is confused, because the second was now smiling even harder than before. He then writes his answer then puts his head down. The fifth decides not to answer. Convinced it’s a part of a larger psychological test, he laughs to himself as he looks at his inferior classmates. The answers given were as follows:
- The Teacher: Yes
- First Student: Yes
- Second Student: Yes
- Third Student: Yes
- Fourth Student: I don’t know
- Fifth Student:
The question was “Is cheating morally wrong?” All the students except for the fifth student pass the class. After a dramatic debate with the teacher, he is required to retake the course the following semester. Each student reveals inherent truths about our society, and I would like to invite you to think deeply about your tendencies and habits as I go in depth into the symbolism of their characters.
The Ethical Leader
The first student represents the man of integrity and discernment. He immediately recognizes the answer and smirks because it’s obvious to anyone with the same moral countenance. He decisively makes his decision, and has accepted his choice and its consequences. His action may seem easy in this illustration, but from an ethical standpoint, there are plenty of people who could argue the counter point. What is cheating, who defines cheating, and if everyone cheats why should it matter? No one got hurt; shouldn’t everyone have the right to pass? In a way these are all very logical questions, but upon closer review they are all still flawed. Why; because there is only one categorical imperative. If cheating became universal then fairness would be obsolete, therefore cheating is wrong in all cases. The world is filled with people who mean well or don’t mean well in their search for success. Whether either is true, there is always an opportunity to take advantage of someone or something. There may not be an explicit law against it, but if the roles were reversed the transgressor would feel short-changed.
In those gray areas, the ethical leader may be the one who stands as the “unpopular” one, or as the “overachiever,” that just has to “show-everyone-up” by doing things the hard way. Some may follow him, but they dare not take the high road alone…. by themselves….. as he will. In a world full of Lance Armstrongs and Bernard Madoffs, they are the whistle blowers that simply will not stand for injustice. Even if they take a major hit from the collateral damage, they would gladly do it again. They’re the icons that people want to be like but seldom imitate, because they constantly shoulder extreme ridicule and opposition from enablers. The first student is aware of his freedom in the classroom, but chooses to align with morality and submit to the teacher.
The Amoral Leader
The amoral leader is represented by the second student. He knows the answer as well, but he decides to copy the teacher’s for two reasons. First, he wants to flaunt his rebellion of the teacher and the normal classroom decorum. Second, he wants to spread confusion and disorder to his peers. Since it’s an ethical exercise, he could have easily answered “No” and he still would have passed the test. It would have been his rightful opinion should he want to debate the topic, and normally he would be the person to do just that. However, he knew he could influence weaker minds and their confusion would serve as entertainment (evidenced with his pleasure in the third student seeing the teacher’s answer).
These are the people who live to intimidate, manipulate, and trick people. I’m sure you have met them before. As long as it pleases them, they’ll do it and won’t think twice if they have to hurt someone to have it. They believe your power, status, talents, intelligence, and wealth determine your worth to them. As soon as you become a problem or unusable, you are quickly dismissed. Re-branded today as the utilitarian, they love making seemingly overly harsh decisions “for the greater good.” They are quick to prey on the weak as scapegoats. For instance, if a boat was over-crowed and about to sink, they would be the first to throw the weakest man overboard to drown. Citing that they contribute the least and would be a burden, he would reluctantly gain supporters. Those who disagreed would be labeled as unrealistic sympathizers and face possible retaliation. Seemingly logical, right? Well not really, since he could have saved the ship by jumping overboard himself. These guys are actually cowards, because the student had chances to perform the same act while the teacher was around. However, he waited for his 45 minute window. Ironically, even with all of his trickery, he still willingly conformed to the teacher in the end.
It’s easy to tell a follower: short-lived thrills, indecisive, and always looking to others for decisions they already know the answer to. He blindly follows the second student, out of intrigue and awe of what he thinks is a brilliant act, only to be largely disappointed. He finds out the greater purpose of the exercise when he sees the teacher’s answer. Instead of acting on the guilt he clearly felt, he decides to never do it again. He then goes back to his seat disillusioned and ashamed. At one time or another, this has been all of us. We’ve all followed that person who seemed to have a cheat code to life and knew exactly how to have the best time. “Rules are meant to be broken” and “live fast, die young” sound way better than “rules are important, keep them” and “live slow, die old”. Plus, we all know nothing is more bad-ass then playing games with cheat codes (think Tony Hawks Pro Skater and Grand Theft Auto), and once you have them it’s lame going back to normal. Little did we know that life has no cheat codes, and all that fun comes with a price. We had our parents, teachers, and other peers (the ethical leaders) show and tell us what’s right, but we can’t help but to try the taboo things anyway. Sadly, they don’t ever quite live up to the expectations. Even though it’s not quite so bad as everyone makes it, there is definitely a feeling of an unwelcomed trade-off being made. In that same moment, you also see all those who don’t care about it in an entirely new light (and it’s more lemony than lime). Then and there, you can either decide not to continue, or you can be like the third student and say next time. For some, that next time never comes, but for others, that next time comes on the first time – when the consequences that the amoral leader omitted are realized. Hard.
To be ignorant, in some ways, is a mental peace that most of us will never have. Just think if you were never were exposed to murder, thieves, and all sorts of evil that happen every day. I know I would be a lot more carefree. But the fact that those same people live in a world where there ARE murders, thieves, and numerous criminals makes being ignorant a truly sad thing. Those who do not know are, and forever will be, at the mercy of those who do know. In this instance, pure ignorance was is aided by a good teacher, who saw that that honest answer was in fact the right answer since they did not decide to cheat. Those that are innocent and ignorant need to be taught, not reprimanded, because the only thing they are learning is harsh treatment for no apparent reason. If left alone or to fail, they will fall into follower tendencies that are even worse….ones of the next guy.
Have you ever seen a successful fool? I know I never have. As soon as they get money, they spend it all on something ridiculous, and as soon as they get wisdom, they use it to destroy themselves. Student five is the typical “know-it-all” that in reality knows nothing. He’s the one that claims to be on-par with the teacher, but never delivers on it. He grasps some of the big picture, that there is a deeper meaning beyond the exercise, but he forgets to do the fundamentals that are required of it. These are the people so bent on flying that they never bother building landing gear. Their excuse is that they never will have to land, but the reason everyone else is laughing at them is because they will never even take off. Being lost in the clouds and choosing to do nothing is no way to live life. Making the decision to not make a decision is one of the most incompetent things a man can do in any given situation. Why? Well, for starters it shows that you lack the courage in yourself to make a decision. It also shows that you lack the wisdom to make a wise one. Regardless of what scheme student five thought was happening, the instructions clearly indicated the need to write it down. He could have passed had he written the whole plan down, yet he was too busy gloating about it to himself. Even ignorant people succeed over fools, because fools squander resources that ignorant people never had. To make matters worse, they do it when the stakes are too high for such simple mistakes. It would be one thing if the test could be made up or offset, but this test determined if he would pass or fail. As can you see, the real world has no empathy for fools. It will rob them blind and beat them heavily with no remorse, because as my little sister would say, “It’s their own dumb fault.”
As Plutocrats, we are inherently called on to be Ethical Leaders. Not only are we to set the example for the followers and have compassion for those who do not know any better, but we have to curb the world’s fools and amoral leaders. It’s never an easy job, but it’s the one that pays the biggest dividends in the end. The list of distinguished alumni is always growing, and we want to welcome you with open arms.