I was going to try and continue my story...but the weeks events left me empty and exhausted, with little time or capacity to recollect the past. Maybe next time. The upshot of this, is that it was personal, and individual, and not related specifically to my relationships, or any poly context.
This week has been a valuable learning experience, a practical exercise in ethics and morality, and an abject lesson in corruptibility, fallibility, and humility... the point of which I hope will stay with me for a while. Given the fallout from this week, and the damage done to my own sense of self, I donít fancy a repeat of the experience.
So what happened? Letís set the scene. I had a test to do. Itís not an easy test...high failure rate, and requires an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of very long and wordy topic. I sometime wonder how it is that anyone ever passes these. And despite the fact that itís an environment where we take personal integrity very seriously, I have seen before, where people have taken liberties with the fact that weíre very loosely supervised on occasion. Itís also not uncommon for the supervisors to make tests very easy to pass...and they arenít at all subtle about it. So before the test, I got word from another person writing that while the test was officially closed book, the guy running it would allow it to be open book. It was a little unexpected...but not really surprising, and I reckoned that it was perhaps just the way it was done. Indeed, after the my boss gave out the test, and the standard CYA blurb, he very much gave us tacit permission to use our books while writing, just as long as we put them away before he entered the room.
So do I, or donít I? Perhaps to play exactly by the rules would be putting myself at an unfair disadvantage. The others writing had their books handy. Do I just go ahead and bomb the test honestly? Why the rotten feeling that somethingís about to go sideways? Something about that gut feeling said something was wrong....well of course it was....itíd be cheating. I should have listened better to my great-grandfather....the little voice in my head that habitually tells me not to things that I will regret later...like when to stop drinking, or when to stop speeding...not always a premonition kind of thing, but sometimes it very much seems like it. When I listen, things go fairly smoothly. When I donít...I generally regret the hangover.
Regardless of what implied permission I had from my boss...he apparently didnít send the same memo to my bossís boss, who came barging into the room unannounced late in the session. There was no time to put anything away, or any point in pretending that I wasnít doing what I was doing. Caught, red-handed, and rightly so. My Great-Grandfather had been warning me for hours that this would happen, and I hadnít listened, and it was going to be something Iíd regret.
So what was the ethical quandary? Believe it or not, it wasnít the decision to cheat...ok, it was, and I chose poorly, and was ready to deal with the consequences of that. I had no issues with the idea that I had been caught, that I was in the wrong, and that Iíd have to make some kind of restitution. I donít cheat...never have during my entire academic career, Iím so bad at it that I get caught even when Iím allowed...so why did I let this happen?
Like Raffiki says, it doesnít matter, itís in the past.
No, the problem was, whatís my excuse? More specifically...how much do I tell? Do I just take my lumps, and fall on my sword over this? Or do I take down my boss, and the other people writing the test with me? The guy who told me that weíd be able to use books in the first place spared no time covering his ass...and for what it might have been worth feigned ignorance at my behaviour...except that to be complicit in my cheating would have reflected on him too, so itís hard to figure he was motivated by anything but his own self-interest.
Thereís various complications about the relationships between the boss, myself, the other guy, and the bossís boss that I donít feel it necessary to dig into for the purpose of this entry. Nor too much about the aftermath ...but suffice to say, the others have not had any real consequences yet, and Iím working the last of mine out today....other than the more lasting blow to my reputation and integrity if the cheating actually becomes open knowledge.
In thinking back into the nature of what I do, and the things I have to say in order to get things done, I realized that as much as we may value integrity, and honesty, sometimes thereís no easy way for it to mesh with loyalty. Sometimes they are oil and water, and we must say things, and even lie about things, usually insignificant things like our personal opinions. We have to because sometimes loyalty takes precedence....itís a case by case decision that sometimes has to be weighed and measured.
I donít know if these people deserve my loyalty, the jury is still out on that. I wasnít even sure for the first couple days that the paranoid part of my brain wasnít right in smelling a conspiracy to make it east for me to be caught so that the boss could get some dirt on me.
Regardless...I said nothing about being given permission to cheat, and used a convenient excuse that the boss gave me while I wrote repentant letters apologizing for being stupid.
So why this need to expose this very very embarrassing, and possibly damaging story here? Partly because the anonymity allows me to tell what really happened without affecting the others involved. Maybe because Iím hoping that Iím still safe to expose this kind of thing here without being entirely ostracised for it...something that I wasnít even convinced my wife would forgive me for when I told her about the episode.
Mostly because I think it speaks to something Iíve seen here on the forum from time to time. Even Iíve been guilty of it from time to time, Iím sure. That people sometimes get so caught up in the heat of moral absolutes, that we forget or ignore what itís like to be human. To stray, to be corruptible, to be fallible. To find ourselves in such circumstances that spin the moral compass towards bad decisions which weíll regret later.
The prime example that comes to mind, shares the same word, but itís the cheating we often end up speaking about on the forum, cheating not on tests, but on partners. There seems to be no small number of people who arrive here trying to find their way to ethical non-monogamy because theyíve been set on the path by their own (or a partnerís) unethical mistakes. In the lense of moral absolutes, thereís no room for the error, or allowance for the circumstances, and often thereís some very strong opinions expressed and echoed, either to comfort one party, or to chastise the other, usually both together since itís a very two-way dynamic. One that resonates in my mind is a retort Iíve seen more than once to people who claim they Ďaccidentallyí screwed someone that they werenít supposed to; something to the effect of disbelief that their dick could Ďaccidentallyí fall into someone...as if it was impossible to do so. (This theory should actually be tested....with the judicious application of obscene amounts of LUBE! It might be fun.
I find myself this week wondering how many people have been chased off from trying to follow an ethical path, simply by the judgement of those who may have already managed to find it. And how many of us that think weíre on the path, are still able to slip from it...poly is after all, by in large, a less travelled, not well mapped or marked trail with many hazards on which to trip.
This week I found out that while I never cheated on a test before, I was fallible, and was capable of doing so. Iíve never cheated on my wife before either...but if I was corruptible to cheat on a test, could I cheat on my wife?
This week I rediscovered that loyalty and honesty donít always work well together. How many times in the past have I done this calculation unconsciously? How many times have I had to lie, or withhold, in order to protect those that I hold dear? Because the weight of the lives affected by the truth, and the damage that could be done, isnít worth the cost of telling the truth just so I can feel better about myself?
Try not to misinterpret my meaning in writing all this...itís a blog after all. This diatribe is not intended to condone cheating, or other similar behaviours considered incompatible with poly or ethical non-monogamy. Nor is it intended to disparaging those who attempt to re-orient the moral compasses or try to make people take responsibility for their own stupidity. It is simply a reflection on the matter from my own viewpoint, and perhaps others will take a moment to look in the mirror their own selves and see what they find. Do we honestly know where our limits are, before we forget to listen to great-grandpa?
For my own part, I shall endeavour to be a little more compassionate and understanding of those who may arrive here having erred in the past, and particularly if their trying to find their way.
If I am a fail, than so are they...and if I can find my way, stumble though I might, so can they.
What we do may not always be right...but itís always human.