In Consideration of Cheating

Cheating. It’s something that I will never understand. I don’t get why people do it, and until recently, I didn’t get why people tolerate it. But I’ve heard some stories and done some thinking, and now I’d like to tell you what I’ve discovered.

The way I see it, there are two types of cheating: romantic, where one cheats on their partner, and professional, where one cheats in a manner related to academics or work. Interestingly enough, I’ve had conversations about both in the last week.

Let’s start with professional cheating. Now, largely, this type has to do with plagiarism. In the art world, sometimes this is justified as appropriation and so is not always seen as straight-up stealing someone else’s work. My roommate is an art major. She’s in a graphic design class with this boy named Andrew or William (he gets called both names by two different professors, so she’s not sure what his real name is). Anyway, she came home the other day and was telling me about how they had to design a book cover for this class a couple weeks ago. She told me the other day she was scrolling through Pinterest and stumbled across a print that was identical to the one Andrew/William presented as his book cover in class. The only difference, as far as she could tell, was that he had slapped on a book title.

This discovery caused an internal conflict for her. Should she tell her professor? Should she keep it to herself? Ultimately, she decided not to say anything. Upon questioning her about it, she said he has kids and a wife, and he’s trying to rebuild his life. Even though it’s not right for him to steal work, who is she to potentially ruin his life by bringing it up with the professor?

At first, I disagreed with her. But after thinking about it, I get it. No one wants to be a snitch, but moreover, she felt she didn’t know nearly enough about the situation. As far as she knew, he had talked to the professor about this, and the professor had decided this would be appropriation of someone else’s art and not in fact plagiarism. She decided it was not her place to interfere. As long as her work is original, she said, what he does is between him, the professor and the other artist.

I’ve also been having a lot of conversations about romantic cheating lately. Primarily, they’ve all been with the new guy I’m seeing. He was cheated on in his last relationship both physically and emotionally. He still has feelings for her, despite all of that. It’s not easy, he said. She meant something to him then, he said. Regardless of the residual feelings, the last girl he was with has made it hard for us to be together because it left him with the sad belief that maybe there really isn’t anyone you can trust.

Aside from how romantically cheating on someone can mess with them, I’ve come to wonder if cheating itself is really the problem. Obviously, to some extent it is. It breaks any semblance of trust the non-cheater can have for the cheater. And for some people, cheating is the ultimate deal-breaker. It certainly doesn’t help the relationship, but I don’t think cheating itself is what ruins a relationship. It’s the lie(s) that usually accompany it that deal the real KO.  The way I see it, the cover-up of the cheating, the hiding it, is what makes cheating hard to overcome.

In a broader sense, the lie is what makes cheating as egregious as it’s usually perceived, whether professionally or romantically. The act of cheating itself is a problem. But the kill-shot is the lie. When people are honest about having plagiarism in their work or having slept with another person that one night, it’s problematic but there is at least some merit in having been honest about it.

What I hope you take away from this is not that cheating in any capacity is okay, so much as that we’re human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes, really bad mistakes. And while that doesn’t right the wrong of cheating, some compassion makes it worth further consideration. It’s easy to write off these kinds of acts, but there is usually a greater reason for it. Should that make plagiarism unpunishable? No. Does that mean you should stay in your relationship with the person who cheated on you? Not necessarily. All I’m trying to say here is that compassion and consideration of these things on a case-by-case basis might be a good idea.