Why should I not cheat?

From a purely utilitarian perspective, it is a fantastic idea to cheat. If I cheat smartly in a way that I do not get caught, I can increase my CPI. By increasing my CPI, I can be eligible for better companies during placements, build stronger applications for graduate schools, etc.

This thinking can be extended to almost all areas of life. If I cheat at my job such as by taking credit for other’s work, I can get quicker promotions; if I cheat in my relationships, I can get more pleasure(?); and so on.

If cheating can increase my chances of overall pleasure and success, why then should I not cheat?

Unfortunately, every cheating instance breaks my self-concept. Ego and self-concept are fluid things instead of something written in stone. There is a constant feedback loop between my actions and my self-concept. If I cheat a few times because I didn’t have enough time, my self-concept will slowly start shifting into I am “a person who is lazy” or I am “a person who does not know how to manage my time”. If I cheat a few times because I didn’t really understand the concepts, my self-concept will slowly start shifting into I am “a person who can not understand tough concepts” or I am “dumb”.

There is another reason people cheat: anti-authoritarianism. I may believe that I am really smart and I will assert my smartness by showing that I can fool my instructors and get away with cheating. To begin with as an instructor, I believe that you are in all likelihood smarter than I am. I am already convinced. You are brilliant.

But the problem is such external validations, including encouraging words, grades, and degrees, do not last one for their whole life. Therefore, even landing a great job and just getting into a great college can never provide sustained confidence. It’s important to reflect on this. You are already in the best school of India. Have you built lasting confidence?

What actually lasts and serves in the whole life is (1) knowledge: I really deeply know what I am talking about; (2) learning ability: if I do not understand something, I have the ability to spend enough time and effort to learn really tough concepts; and (3) integrity: no matter what are the circumstances, I do not bend on my strong will and principles.

Cheating does not build either of these. You will always look out for ways to lie and fool other people, desperately trying to look smart or faithful, and can never keep lasting confidence.

However, if you build integrity: I will give my honest best and then just get what I truly deserve; you will develop all three: knowledge, learning ability, and integrity. Your actions and self-concept will come in a positive loop and you will start building lasting self-confidence. If you continue this approach, you will succeed in all areas of life – personal and professional – and become a strong leader.

Should I tell the instructor that someone else is cheating?

In my courses, we appreciate “whistleblowers” who email me evidences of cheating, such as Whatsapp screenshot of another student posting a solution in a student Whatsapp group. Anonymity of whistleblowers is always maintained by me; whistleblower identities are never revealed to the TAs as well.

Becoming a whistleblower serves academic integrity; cheaters are harmful for everyone because they will shift the bell curve to the right and hurt grades of honest students.

However, becoming a whistleblower is tough because it goes against an individual’s ingrained tendency to conform with the society. Yet, becoming one is the prime of integrity and ethics.

Again, there will be many instances in life where you come to know about your superiors and your peers doing unethical tasks such as workplace harrassment, hurting the nature, and bending government regulations. Tasks that you know in your heart of hearts are unethical. How you behave in those circumstances define what kind of a person you are and whether you possess goodwill towards the society as a whole. It will take a lot of guts to go towards righteousness and truth even when it may be against your immediate society.

Whistleblowers expose the cheaters so that the honest people do not get hurt. If you do become a whistleblower, I have nothing short of my deepest respect for you. If you cannot bring yourself to become one, it is ok. Please don’t be harsh on yourself. It is super tough. I wish you more courage.