It’s hard to find the moral high ground when you’re standing in the mud | Halas Časopis studentů Fakulty sociálních studií. 26. ročník

It’s hard to find the moral high ground when you’re standing in the mud

Do rubriky Okénka napsal Nadya Jaworsky (Pondělí, 14. květen 2012)

I started to write a column called “It’s Thesis Time” for this issue. We’ve just passed the draft deadline and I’ve been reading my students’ work about everything from the Westernization of China to Internet memes. But by the time you are reading this, the final versions will be in the IS waiting to be defended and thesis writing will be old news.

Honestly, my restlessness was about more than just writer’s block. In fact, there was a topic that kept coming back into my mind.

Cheating. Or, to be more specific – a “culture of cheating”. Or, to be even more specific – cheating on exams in my classes!

I take it so personally, and I tend to be irrational. “It’s just not right, ever,” I think to myself.

But because I’m a sociologist, I immediately remember that every behavior occurs in a particular social context. And because I’m a cultural sociologist, I quickly turn to thinking about “meaning making”, the process by which we strive to make sense of our everyday social reality, including those moments that we decide to break the rules.

Most of us live our lives according to the rules, from formal laws to social norms. But often there is an unspoken understanding that it’s OK to break certain rules, and that’s when “culture” comes into picture. For example, in the United States, there is a “culture of cheating” on income tax returns. It’s all right to cheat the big bad government. In sociological terms, it’s a “victimless crime”, like smoking marijuana or using fake documents to work if you are an unauthorized migrant. It’s not like robbery or murder, where there is clear harm to another human being or beings.

But the only victim of cheating in the classroom is the student that does it. Not only will you miss out on learning something thoroughly enough to be tested on it, but you will also have to live with your loss of personal integrity, which may be harder in the long run. As I grow older and begin to forget things, unfortunately, some of the most crystal-clear memories I have are those in which I broke the rules.

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