Everyone loves taking a hack at dirty politicians (this piece won't make reference to the few wonderful ones who stay clean). We say that they're corrupted, they're cheaters... and the list goes on.
We think so poorly of bad politicians, primarily because they cause so much damage on such a grand scale. This would include major headline-making issues like criminal breaches of trust, cronyism, election manipulation, and so on.
But the large scale of their misdoings tend to distract us from an important reality: Politicians just happen to have a larger sphere of influence within which they can propagate corruption / cheating / etc. This allows their misdoings to be more spectacular, and spectacular misdoings are very fun to condemn, and so we do condemn them. And then we feel as holy as the Pope after doing that.
But let's take a closer look at this.
Everyone has the capacity to engage in corruption and cheating at any point in time. We just differ in terms of the room that we have to do these things — by this, I mean that a CEO with a large network of powerful contacts would have more room to cheat at a higher level than, say, a kid in primary school.
So what happens if the CEO is involved in cheating and financial mismanagement, and the kid in primary school cheats in a class test?
Are these two even comparable?
At first glance, this wouldn't seem to be the case. But upon closer inspection, one may find a common thread between the two cases: Both the CEO and the primary school kid cheated as much they could within the capacity that they had. The kid only had the capacity to cheat in a simple class test, no more — but he maxed out that capacity to its fullest. The CEO had the capacity to cheat on a much larger scale, and he too maxed that out and cheated a firm of its funds.
If, one day, the kid were to grow up — and his capacity to cheat increased — who's to say that he wouldn't cheat on a much larger scale too? If, say, cheating has already become part of his DNA, then an increased capacity to cheat would naturally invite more of this at a higher level.
In other words: Our crimes get bigger as our capacity to commit crimes get bigger. And all this — regardless of scale — is fueled by the underlying principle (or lack of principle, for the matter) of corruption or cheating or bribery or lying or anything else under the sun.
So to the best of my abilities, I want to maintain my integrity even in what may seem to be insignificant circumstances.
Because nothing I lose — be it grades, wealth, respect, whatever — will ever be as tragic as the loss of character.