Your Cheating Hearts

Mention the word cheating, and most people will picture a couple necking in a parked car, or a card-sharp with shifty eyes.

However, cheating is much more – and much less – than that. We tend to encounter cheaters daily. Sometimes, they masquerade as kindly souls who want nothing but the best for us. You can practically hear the cogs in their brain gyrate and grate as they calculate how much it will net them in gratitude, or even in kind.

All of us know people who believe that rules are made to be broken. Ethics become stretchable rubber-bands; principles are like bendy straws, and values are like fun-fair mirrors that distort reality “just for fun”. And that, perhaps, is the secret of it all. Because in my half-century on this world, I have learnt that most people cheat just because they can.

I was looking out of the bus window on the left-hand side (this might explain things better), listening to my pocket radio. The passenger next to me nudged me with her elbow, and nodded towards the driver and the woman standing next to him (a foreigner). As my seat-mate explained, the driver had just told her the fare was €1; this after she had handed him 50cents and told him to keep the change. So she held out a handful of change in her palm and he took some coins off it.

He was telling her that he would give her the ticket ‘later’. There were several other tourists, of different nationalities, but somehow, she was the one whom he picked. Before she could even sit down, someone informed her in her own language that she had been cheated, so she marched back to the front of the bus and demanded her ticket, telling him that he had cheated her.

Many Maltese people, of course, arbitrarily decided she was making a fuss “over nothing” and that she would not “dare” to do this in her own country. Ah! The probability is that she would not have been overcharged, there. The driver decided to play for time. He pressed some tabs on the ticketing machine and she reached out to take the paper that came out. He crossly informed her that it was not the ticket (it looked like a statement of fares taken up to that moment), and then he asked her whether or not he had given her change… when we all knew that there had been no call for that. So he slapped 50cents into her palm, told her that she was keeping people waiting, and that she was to sit down without causing trouble. “Oh, you be careful,” she said, teeth clenched, shaking her index finger at him – but fortunately, she stopped there.

This incident was not repeated to show the attitude of bus drivers, some of whom are especially cordial, perhaps to make up for the discourtesy of those who are not. People cheat to show they can hoodwink the rest of us.

Take my friend Vivienne, for instance. She decided she must wear a particular (expensive) item of clothing on her birthday. However, not having budgeted for it, and having overspent on other things, she could not afford it; the money left in her bank account would just suffice for the bills. She ‘bought’ it anyway, and wore it; and on the following day, turned up at the shop with a sob story about how her boyfriend didn’t like it, and how he had told her she looked like a whore in it, and more of this claptrap.

The salesgirl called the manager, who was taken in by the sorry tale – and her money was refunded. By the way – she did not have a boyfriend, and I know the story because she proudly told it to me herself, and not through hearsay.

We laugh at people who use “cheats” to play videogames; but don’t some of us do the same in real life? We ask them why they don’t give up on a game when they cannot reach high levels in the ordinary way; but they reply that all is fair in love and war. Admitting that a game has beaten them would make them appear weak. And that is the reasoning inherent in all types of cheaters after all.

The more people cheat, the more the do not realise they are doing it. Eventually they come to believe that the world – the rest of us – owes them something because they are “special”. Whether they cheat at exams, or at totting up a bill, or through shoplifting, or through plagiarising an article, or through pretending to be something they are not, the very fact that they dupe at least one other person boosts their self-esteem. Eventually, they might even come to believe they are what and who they say they are.

Sometimes, cheaters calculate whether what will happen if they are exposed. Often, the probability of being caught is another factor for analysis. Yet sometimes, cheating is “instinctive”.

For a time, I worked at a place where they gave freebies; it was an honours system, where we shared everything. One day, the person who had given away some promotional tickets to one of us asked my friend and me whether we had like the show. Our blank looks told him that we knew nothing about them; and of course, the cheaters who had shared the tickets between themselves and their siblings said that they didn’t think we would be interested – which was not the point at all.

Are there a lot of people who cheat a little, or a few people who cheat a lot? Is cheating due to an inferiority complex – or is it just a way of gaining brownie points in the rat race?

Whichever the case, cheating is usually motivated by selfishness, as are all negative emotions. Cheaters do not know how to deal with life in a rational, adult manner; so they try to bamboozle others.

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