Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Falling Idols

Ernie Harwell, the legendary sportscaster for the Detroit Tigers, said that "Baseball is a lot like life." That's true in many ways, but I'm thinking this was not what he had in mind. The baseball world is waiting for the next foot to fall in the doping scandal which will hopefully mark the end of a scandal-plagued era. A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) is rumored to be facing a multiyear or even life-time ban from baseball for using performance enhancing drugs. Only recently Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2011 National League MVP, was suspended for the remainder of this season for the same thing.

The expectation is that a sizable number of the top stars of Major League Baseball will be called to account for their behavior, after a lengthy investigation aimed at cleaning up the sport. One of the questions being asked is, will this convince the other pro sports to clean up their games as well?

Cheating is not a baseball problem; it's not a sports problem; it's a human problem. It extends into every area of our society. According to surveys in U.S. News and World Report:
  • 80% of “high-achieving” high school students admit to cheating.
  • 51% of high school students did not believe cheating was wrong.
  • 75% of college students admitted cheating, and 90% of college students didn’t believe cheaters would be caught.
  • Almost 85% of college students said cheating was necessary to get ahead.

In 2012 scores of students were asked to withdraw from Harvard University after an investigation into allegations of cheating. It is, indeed, everywhere, with the common theme being that it's only wrong if you get caught. How did we arrive here?

I had an uncle who was a farmer in a rural community in Ontario. Every once in a while we would sit down for a conversation. During one of those chats he started reminiscing about the good old days when people could be trusted. He believed that your word was your bond and would close deals with a hand shake. He would never have thought of "fudging the figures" or altering the scales to make more money on a crop. In fact, he would rather lose money than to go back on his word. While not everyone in his generation acted with the same integrity, a great many did. What has changed?

C.S. Lewis spoke of this in his book "The Abolition of Man." Lewis was criticizing the removal of values from the education system in particular and society in general. Education without values, in Lewis' mind, would produce men and women with head knowledge, but no hearts - no chests. What he said back in 1943 resonates in 2013: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

This leads to the question, what is our basis for values? Unless we find an appropriate answer to this question, it is simply a matter of opinion. Is it wrong to cheat? Why? Who is hurt if a player is using anabolic steroids, or whatever the drug of the day is, to enhance his performance? What does it matter if a student cheated on their exam in university? Does it make a difference?

It makes a difference if it's your doctor and he or she doesn't know what they're supposed to know upon graduation. It makes a difference if it's your investment broker playing fast and loose with the facts and your money. As C.S. Lewis said, "A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional...values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process." We hear of government corruption and ponzie schemes and we shake our heads in disgust. We know it's wrong. But why is it wrong?

Without a universal standard, it's simply a choice: somebody trying to get ahead. Yet we have this sense, all of us, that this is morally wrong. Where does that come from? The question inevitably leads us back to God - the lawgiver. While we may have removed him from public discourse, we are having a hard time living in the vacuum left behind. We long for the days when men had chests. Think about this when you teach your children, and don't be surprised if, after removing objective values, you end up with men and women with no integrity.

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