Integrity Matters
January 12, 2004

Honesty always remains the best policy

Question: (E-163)

Dear Jim:

What causes people to lie, cheat and steal?


Ego, arrogance and greed drive integrity-destroying behaviors. Ego is that little voice that whispers that certain individuals really are smarter than most other people. Arrogance becomes the response that believes this ego-driven "superiority message" and then acts upon the misinformation. Greed is simply the over-the-top, self-serving motive that is blind to social and moral constraints.

Individuals who believe they are smarter than those about them are convinced that no matter what they do, they will not be caught. Individuals choose to lie because they conclude it is an effective way to get what they want. Some use as their excuse that they grew up in some kind of dysfunctional environment and their sociological and genetic roots are what caused them to lie, cheat and steal. If that were a solid defense, arguably millions of people could blame their "upbringing" for their irresponsible behaviors. However, such a justification simply fails to hold water.

This ego, arrogance and greed explanation describes all too common human behavior. But, what about the circumstances that move ego and arrogance into such destructive as stealing, driven by greed? What causes them to believe that they can "get away with it"? Those who choose to lie, cheat and steal have their own reassuring answers to these three questions:

Will I get caught? No, because my clever antics will easily escape the naïve audits of those in accounting or the salesperson who is so preoccupied that my shoplifting will go unnoticed.

Will those in law enforcement, should I ever be caught, be able to make the case to convict me? No, because those folks will likely miss a clue and not file their crime reports accurately - and even when they do, they will still fail to convene a perceptive jury. Further, arrogance at this level believes the imperfect justice system will be unable to convict. The superior "gamer" will simply find a way to wiggle free.

Assuming ego, arrogance and greed are root causes for lying, cheating and stealing, then what can be done to make society better? People obey socially acceptable rules and regulations, personally and professionally, for a variety of reasons:

They simply "buy-in" to integrity-centered values. Nurture them.

They fear being arrested, audited or embarrassed. Remind them. Spiritual principles inspire constructive behavior while holding destructive actions in check. Encourage them.

They are simply too tired to risk getting caught, knowing their memory will not keep stories straight about their lying, cheating or stealing. Confirm their self-doubts and smile.

Integrity is one of several paths, and it distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which individuals will never get lost.

Home Page | About Us | Ask Bracher | Services | Resources | Contact Us

©Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership. All Rights Reserved.
1400 Munras Avenue ~ Monterey, California 93940