My colleagues and I have some interesting conversations around the lunch table sometimes. I reckon most of the time, the conversation starts with something seemingly benign, and then, tangent after tangent, it develops into something completely different.
The other day, we got around to the topic of cheating. I can’t remember where it started, but that’s where it ended. We weren’t talking about cheating in a relationship, but just general cheating, and someone made the comment that they reckon I would never cheat on an exam (or something to that effect). To which, being the honest person that I am, I had to make a confession. It was something that I’m pretty sure I’ve never, ever told anyone, but for one reason or another, I thought it was time to release this secret from the depths of my conscience.
The incident happened in grade four (yes, I’ve been living with this secret since I was eight or nine years old). There was a big maths test at some point in the year, and I’d gotten 100% on it. After all the tests had been marked, the teacher returned them to us, and she went through all the questions with the class so that we’d know where we went wrong. Part of the exam was about the use of the greater than / less than symbols (> and <); and it was in this section that I realised that I’d actually gotten a question wrong…
In my defence, she went through that section pretty quickly – at least, it was too quick for my young brain to register and process what had just happened. Of course, just looking at it, I knew that it was wrong, so it didn’t really matter that she’d already moved on to the next section.
But I was shattered. My 100% was a lie. I wasn’t sure whether or not to say anything – the question itself was probably only worth 0.01% or something petty. What difference does it make if I get 99.99% or 100%?
I think, at the time, I knew that I should say something about it to the teacher, but I just didn’t. I decided to ignore it, and swallowed the guilt. Maybe if someone had told me that I’d still be living with the guilt after >15 years, I might have chosen a different path.
And I don’t know if it technically is cheating, per se, but I suppose it’s similar to how an omission of truth could be considered lying. For the record, I’ve never cheated in an exam since then, and I don’t think I’ve ever cheated in an exam before then either. It was just that one time, I swear!