Ethics study not encouraging

Studies show that I’ll be a repeat victim of line jumping

A few months ago, I wrote a column about ethics, or what I perceived to be lack thereof, in the grocery store checkout line.

Without belaboring the point, I talked about how I was waiting in a long line when a checker opened the line next door; a free-for-all of people jumping from the back of the current line to the front of the new one ensued, and I wound up exactly where I was originally (stuck in a long line) and with a bit of a sour attitude.

Quite a few of you emailed and called me with your thoughts. Many were sympathetic and, as fellow line-jumping victims, glad to hear the problem didn’t just happen to them.

Several suggested I should have contacted the store manager and set in motion a series of events that might have freed the cashier to take control of the situation next time, rather than letting the inmates run the asylum.

A few were less sympathetic, indicating that maybe I needed to “man up” and move more quickly next time; otherwise, I should just keep my mouth shut.

And a few suggested that what happened deserved something akin to armed rebellion, and that at a minimum, I should have confronted the offenders right then and there to teach them a lesson.

As it happens, I did nothing then, and I’m still queasy about doing something “next time”. After reading a recent study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, however, I suspect there will be a next time. And a next time. And a next time …

The Josephson study, which surveys more than 40,000 high school students every two years, attempts to identify the ethics and integrity of our country’s students and, by extension, the direction of our country’s honesty and morals.

I’ll let you digest these facts from the survey:

• 59 percent of high school students say they cheated on a test during the past year;

• 21 percent of students say they have stolen from a parent or relative;

• 80 percent say they lied to a parent about “something significant”; and

• 92 percent of these same high school students say they’re satisfied with their own personal ethics and character.

So one in five students has stolen from a parent, four of five have lied to a parent, and three of five have cheated on a test. But nine out of 10 believe their lives still exemplify good morals, ethics and character.

There are a lot of things I could say about what it means when 90 percent of students believe they’re honest even as almost all of those same students have lied to their parents and most of them have cheated (and probably lied about that, too!).

But there’s really not much I can add to this discussion from my perch at the back of the grocery store checkout line, watching people push by to beat me to the newly opened line next door.

I’m starting to think that even if I open my mouth to complain next time, most offenders won’t understand why I’m upset because they don’t consider what they’re doing a breach of ethics, integrity or simple manners.

If they weren’t brought up to understand what they’re doing is wrong, nothing I say is going to change their minds.


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  • DeWayne White

    I read your column with interest and I too am one of those who bemoan “this present generation” [except for our kids, grand-kids, and great-grand-kids of course]. However, being someone who is enamored of numbers, I found your article a little lacking.

    I don’t know whether to cheer at the numbers or hang my head in sorrow. If 57% [or some number significantly smaller than 59%] of high school students say they cheated on a test during the past year in “last years” survey, I might really bemoan the 59% you reported for “this year”. BUT, if 61% [or some number significantly larger than 59%] was reported last year, I just might have some hope that things are improving.

    When one is quoting surveys and other statistical numbers, I feel one should always heed Disraeli – “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”