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In 2004 David Callaghan wrote a book called The Cheating Culture, which purportedly provides many examples of why in America there is more "bending of the rules" today than in previous generations. Many of his examples are focused on cheating for economic gain or advancement. The simple example is the widespread practice of cheating on school assignments through plagiarism of assignments, but the overriding theme appears to be a growing willingness to break the rules. There were recent references to his book in CSO Online and I also found an article at Santa Clara University.

The growth of music sharing sites such as Napster were another example of our society's willingness to break rules by sharing illegal downloads. By effectively shutting them down the recording industry were cast as villains, when in reality it is their rights that were violated but they are left in a no-win situation.

How does this apply to each of us in our day to day environments? I would suggest that one of the few things you have that no-one can take away, whether you are a corporation or an individual, is your integrity. You can however give it away ... and we see that every day, often in small ways but they do have the ability to lead to large transgressions. I'll bet the people who cheated at Enron and the other large corporate scandals did not start with "the big stuff".

It starts small ... a few extra dollars on the expense report; sneaking off early from work with no intention of making it up; perhaps taking some stationery from the office for the kids; perhaps it is using company resources for personal use ... photocopying large documents in colour, surfing the internet etc. These are small things that many people today just think nothing about, and yet they are wrong.

What comes next? Maybe it is a trip at company expense? Maybe it is a computer finding its way home and not coming back? Maybe it is fudging the commission statements to get more pay or playing with stock option numbers. How far are we now from the Enron or Worldcom scandals? Will you add something fictitious to your resume? Will you "buy" a degree or certification over the internet?

I consider myself to be a fairly pragmatic person, and I do understand that rules get bent ... the question has to be just where are the boundaries. Do we all have our own definition of integrity or should it be obvious and standard?

Integrity and honesty is something that we are all born with, that is easy to lose and not so easy to keep and yet it should be a priceless commodity that we protect. At the end of the day if you are not trusted then just what do you have?