You’ve probably heard it a thousand times since you were a child: Cheating is wrong, it will get you nowhere, if you cheat you’re going down a dark road. You may fear that if you cheat, a pattern of bad things will then happen to you as a result. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not.

And often times it is true that cheating is wrong. But playing fair all the time can cost you too. Cheating isn’t a black and white thing, and cheating does not necessarily make you an evil person or mean that your friends and family won’t want to be around you anymore if they find out what you did. How can playing fair cost you? Let’s say you’re doing a test that you spent months preparing for and your parents are outside the room waiting to hear how you did. You know that if you don’t get all the answers right, you won’t be considered for a scholarship. If you play fairly and miss some of the questions, your shot at that college is gone. Sure, you were honest, but you and your family certainly won’t be happy about your scores.

That is one instant where playing by the rules and keeping your integrity intact can cost you greatly. There are more dramatic examples, but you probably get the point. These situations can arise all around you: races, quizzes, getting in line at grocery stores, games, relationships.

Here are some tips on cheating and overcoming the guilt you might feel afterward:

  1. When cheating, keep your face straight. Watching movies containing poker matches or Wild West gun draws will give you an idea of how you should act and look. Those people are great at bluffing, keeping what they have done or going to do secret from the other person. When you speak, talk naturally, not letting your voice tremble. Keep your eyes from flickering around or looking down at the floor. If you are playing a game, do not let your hands shake, as this is a dead giveaway to the other person that something is wrong.
  2. Know why you are cheating in the first place. Is it to save your marriage, win a game you invested your savings on, get the last item on a shelf so you won’t have to drive to the store at the other end of town? Justify your actions to yourself. Many people think that cheating is a heinous act, reflecting badly on the individual who does it. But look at it another way: how does your cheating at something benefit you and someone else? And if you cheat, does the person you cheat against really have that much at stake? If you are one of those people who feel continually guilty after cheating on something, try to put the incident out of your mind. If you want, and if it will make you feel less awful, you can tell yourself that you won’t do the same thing again.
  3. Another reason you may need to cheat is if you are dealing with a braggart—someone who brags about their accomplishments inappropriately, making you look bad. If you lose to that person or let them get something up on you, they will spread the word about your failure, ruining your reputation. If it is in your workplace, the person bragging could actually make you lose your job or be taken out of consideration for a higher position.
  4. If someone accuses you of cheating, don’t get all emotional about it and start yelling or crying. You can either not answer, remaining quiet, or admit what you did and explain why. If you’re playing a game with high stakes, though, it is better to keep your mouth shut because with money on the line, nobody would really care what your reasons are, even if they are perfectly legitimate and understandable.

As adults, our sense of fairness can get hurt when we see how people in power get away with things. The world has always been unfair. Sometimes people feel that if they play fair, everything will work out in the end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always. Some people think that is something bad is done to them, they will find justice in a court system, and courts do occasionally disperse fair outcomes, but it is run by people and therefore full of imperfections. It’s the best system around right now, but the word “fair” should not be applied to this institution.

The bad thing is that when people fail at something or things don’t work out, they can feel depressed, unhappy, or bitter for days, even years. Most everybody knows someone who hasn’t been able to get over their hurt, whether from a stolen job, lost poker game that cost them thousands, or a lost chance at a higher position in a company. Fair can be an unfortunate four-letter word and a way to be stuck in the past, to the disadvantage of those around you.

Even traditions are unsure about the concepts of right and wrong, who should be punished and who deserves to be rewarded. Dwelling on all that is fair will deepen your hurt and anger. That is why sometimes in situations you have to cheat to get what you need and keep you, your family, and your friends satisfied. Sometimes in circumstances, choosing whether or not to cheat can either put your life on a better path or ruin it. Think of the movie “A Wonderful Life.” Look at all those things that happened when George Bailey had never been born. Now look at yourself. Ask yourself what might happen if you cheat and what will happen if you play fairly. Will being perfectly honest really help you in life, or will it make it horrible? The same thing with cheating. No matter how good your intentions were, they won’t be recognized if you fail, and you will end up unhappy and maybe even more unfortunate if you play fairly.

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