Acting With Integrity Includes on the Golf Course

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    Dear Whit:

    I have a problem that might not seem that big of a deal, but I can’t help but feel that it is. Our 14 year-old son caddies at a local country club and recently had a disturbing experience–at least for me it’s disturbing. I don’t think it is for him, and that’s the issue.

    The man who he was caddying for was taking points off his score and having my son record the lower score. At the end of the round, he gave my son a bigger tip than he usually gets, which my son was thrilled to have. I can understand that from his point of view, but something here just isn’t right. So, I’m wondering if I should do something? But what? Should I report him to the club? Should I confront the man with his cheating? I’m not sure how to handle it, especially since my wife thinks it’s not that big of a deal because this man’s cheating hurts no one and actually helps our son.  She says we can’t change a 40-year-old man when we have a hard enough time with a 14-year old. And besides, our son makes some money off this guy’s lack of ethics. I guess nobody’s perfect, but my gut tells me that there’s a lesson here. What do you think?

    Wants to Do the Right Thing

    Dear Wants:

    Your instincts are right—you do have a chance to teach your son something valuable: the difference between right and wrong when he has not committed the ethical breech. This is really where the rub is here.

    Your son’s argument is that he didn’t do anything wrong, which is an understandable position for him to take. So, ask him, “Is cheating right?” He’ll probably say that it isn’t but that he didn’t do the cheating. Then ask him if taking money to say nothing about cheating is right. He might say it isn’t except in this case. Finally, ask him which is worse, cheating on a test or taking money to say nothing about it. He’ll probably say that taking the money is because the unethical behavior benefits him monetarily, whereas the cheater on a test only gets a grade he doesn’t deserve. Let’s hope so, because the personal enrichment aspect is at the heart of your point. But if he doesn’t, you can ask him what bribery is.

    Here is your opportunity to discuss an ethical concept that most people know about but very few understand and ever fewer uphold: it is acting with integrity. The word integrity comes from Latin integritas, which means wholeness or completeness. Tell him to think of integrity as a whole set of rules that you live by and that you don’t take apart when you feel like it. In general, acting with integrity is acting with honesty.

    But it is more than just that, and his (and your) moral dilemma defines and illustrates the critical essence of integrity: doing what is honest and fair, even, and especially when, it disadvantages you.  Clearly, turning the blind eye or deaf ear to cheating is wrong, but condoning it is made worse by accepting money or other inducements as a quid pro quo (there’s another concept that you can explain to him).

    Giving up money is hard for anyone, much less a 14 year old, but that is what he has to do. So what you have to do is tell your son to give back the money. Other than that, you don’t do anything, and all your son does is say to the man, “I can’t take this.”

    You are right about having a chance to teach your son a valuable lesson, but your wife is right, too, about how changing a 14-year-old boy is tough enough. Neither, however, is a responsibility you want to shirk. Changing the behavior of an adult is not part of your job description. Someone who’d expect a kid to cheat for him probably has no shame; still, you never know. Maybe your son’s returning the money might make the dishonest duffer think twice before offering a teenage caddy a bribe just for bragging rights at the 19th hole.

    Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]



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    1. If “Wants to do the right thing” really wants to help his son, the first thing he needs to do is get together with his wife on what’s right and what’s wrong, in terms of giving their son a consistent message about how ethical people conduct themselves. As long as one parent thinks something is ok and the other doesn’t, no matter what that something is, children will not know whom to believe. Ultimately, they will choose by their own faulty standards; even worse, they will stop believing in the reliability of parental advice. And that is a far more serious problem than taking a one-time bribe. Seems like there’s a basic parenting issue here that is bigger than the ethical issue raised by the writer.

      • Of course, you make a perceptive point about how the parents are split on the issue. After reading my advice, they should be able to hash it to agreement. If, however, they can’t agree, the son still has the benefit of a reasoned position in making his decision about what is right.

    2. I’m with Whit. Have the young man read Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution, where bribery is called a “high crime.” Why? Because, on a truly practical, non-philosophical level, bribery aids and abets dishonesty, and dishonesty undermines truth. Your son may not be dishonest himself. But in this case, he is party to the golfer’s dishonesty, and therefore responsible for it. I say use this situation to teach him that he is responsible for any lie that he endorses. It will serve him in the long run: off the course and in the office, making money off someone’s lack of ethics is, in most cases, just plain illegal.

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