This is now called the Lance Armstrong defense. “But everyone does it” is what every child asserts when attempting to convince unmoving parents that the rules don't apply. Have you ever heard of a parent who listened to this lament and replied, "Wow, Johnnie. I didn't consider that. Well, go ahead then, and I'm sorry to have delayed you."
No, parents don't say that. Instead, what do we say? We say, "I don't care if the whole world is doing it. You aren't. It's not right."
We watch our kid stomp off sullenly, feeling solid and confident that we've just imparted great character development upon our child. Then we go to work the next day and fudge on a rule. Claim more on our tax deductions than we really should. Pay cash so we don't have to pay sales taxes. Get paid in cash, so we don't have to claim the income.
Actually, we still have to, but we find a way to not get caught disobeying the rule.
Our top professional athletes do everything they can to gain a performance edge. They make conscious decisions about what steps to take, which risks to accept and how to "level the playing field" because "everybody else is doing it".
Around the world, there are rules that are supposed to be followed. No chemical weapons, for example. That's kind of an odd one, because a hydrogen bomb involves the annihilation and creation of chemicals. You can incinerate people in a microsecond. But don't gas them, thank you very much.
There are rules for how far offshore a nation's sovereignty extends. Fishermen follow the fish, and if their boat crosses a mile into another nation's coastal zone, the choice is to turn around, and waste a month at sea, or catch up to the tuna long enough to make some money, then scoot out before being noticed. What would you do?
One of the most honorable places for following rules, where each competitor quite commonly adheres to the guidelines, is a no-holds barred, ultimate fighting, mixed martial arts tournament. Because certain holds are barred, it is not ultimate in any sense, and the application of those rules is anything but lethal. Lots of rules. Everybody complies: You lightly tap me somewhere and I don't dislocate your shoulder.
Boxing isn't as upstanding. Boxers try to get in a kidney or groin punch once in a while, even if they get warned. Warnings don't matter if you knock the guy out.
Our legislators promise to represent us if we'll vote for them, that they'll play by the rules, that they are true public servants with the good of the whole foremost in mind. But the rules of Congress seem to be whatever one can get away with.
Clinton demonstrated the heights to which skilled political semanticists can alter the public's governance reality when he replied, "That depends on what the definition of ‘is' is." I am still stunned by those words, and even more dumbfounded as to why anyone who heard that sentence can still say things like, "Yeah, but Clinton was pretty good, you know?"
Now we are treated to another pinnacle of the politician's rationalizations to excuse self-serving behavior. When I listen to the vitriol, I become convinced that they think the whole nation is inside the Beltway. You and I don't exist out here. We are theoretical constructs in the contest of political athletes.
The performance-enhancing drugs of the legislator include campaign fund contributions, publicity of any sort, backdoor favors, defiance of rules, temporary alliances and false promises.
"But if I don't do it like everybody else, there's no way I could get elected, stay in office and do all the good things that I've dreamed of!" complains Congressman Bloopert.
We, the people, the national parent of our pre-adolescent problem child, must stand up tall, stiffen our resolve and, for its own good, tell our representatives in D.C. that we don't care if everybody else is doing it, it's not right. We have to set the example, or they won't follow our guidance.
We do, indeed, get the government we deserve, Alexis.
Sewitch is an entrepreneur and business psychologist. He serves as the vice president of global organization development for WD-40 Company. Sewitch can be reached at email@example.com