Competition, cheating, and ethics

No, not mine. Well, partly mine. I’ve been walking a thin line in recent weeks as will become clear soon enough; I’m in a weird head space at the moment as a result.
But you know, this has been an amazing week. At least except for dropping my Samsung one too many times (broke the liquid crystals, but damned if the touch screen doesn’t still work perfectly!!), and the starter motor on my car dying.
On the plus side, I’m getting a free Blackberry next week so I can learn the horrible UI I’ve always avoided until I can fix my Samsung or upgrade …. Sorry but I’m an Android snob at this point. Nothing so positive about the car to say except that I was lucky that it died 50m from the car repair place (figures, since the car repair place is right by the gym). I had a laugh at the temporary rental car I had; maybe it’s the CrossFit but the non-power steering was actually kind of fun!
Unrelated: car repair places, or at least mine, really need to learn a lesson in under-promise and over-deliver. I actually don’t give a damn if it’s going to take four days … but for the love of God just set my expectations properly so I can make alternate arrangements.
Illness always stinks, but it coincided with a rest week and on THAT subject I am absolutely over the moon that this is the healthiest I have felt in months; specifically since before that hang clean gone bad before Regionals. Taking these complete rest weeks every 4-6 weeks is great, and I am so ready to get back to training that I’m actually almost going stir crazy!
Felt like a very unusual week though without training: spontaneous dinner with Amy Wednesday, lunch & dress shopping with Kerry Thursday (I’m having a sense of humour failure about Saturday’s party already!), physio followed by acupuncture followed by qigong, Friday lunch with Chris @Knead (we didn’t eat any bread), and then no car so didn’t motivate to go out in the evening.
I also got a huge weight off my chest this week, which I’ll talk about in the next post.
So this week some big news has revolved around our friend Lance Armstrong … drug use, no drug use … I don’t actually care to get involved in debating whether or not he’s guilty of anything but one of my Facebook friends posed an interesting question:
“Loaded moral question of the day: Let’s say if, through cheating in a sport, you made the world a substantially better place in the most important ways. Are you a bad person? Did you do a bad thing? Should you not have cheated? I’d like to hear your opinions…”
My first response, of course, was that this is not a question for Facebook but a question for a discussion over a bottle of wine.
Good one though; I had just been saying that morning that I suspected that most people aren’t unethical but just have different levels of what we can personally justify. I mean our capacity for rationalising our own behaviour is legendary. The whole Paul Ryan pro-life thing is certainly making me think of that. I don’t even want to go into that one in more detail other than to say that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
I try always to be as honest and forthright and upright and moral as I can. Sometimes I completely fail, and my perception of what’s right is just completely different to someone else’s. And sometimes I do take the easy way out.
Interesting question posed by a magazine I happened to see: find the thing that scares you the most, and then get after it. I’ve been pondering what scares me the most. Don’t have an answer yet; but I think it falls into the realm doing something where I know I am completely incompetent. I recently asked a recent acquaintance but one whose got scary levels of insight into people, including me, if he thought I had a big ego. He said no: that I was curious, and driven, and motivated by challenges, but realistic enough to understand my limits. I was extremely relieved, because this is how I view myself, and because I know this guy well enough to know that he was giving me an honest answer.
Back to the Lance Armstrong moral dilemma…. in response to that specific question I can say that for me, as a competitive athlete, I would never knowingly cheat. Doesn’t mean I haven’t used stimulants and I won’t do everything legal that I can get my hands on be it fish oil or acupuncture or stimulants or snake oil or visualisation. Ha! But I am not sure how much any of it really matters: on game day, for me, my physical preparation and my mental preparation and confidence are what matters, not the coffee I drank or didn’t drink beforehand.
That’s my moral code when it comes to how I want to compete. I would never want to win and know in the back of my head it was because of some drug. I know the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat. Winning is great; losing is …. A hell of a lot worse than winning is good. But I would rather lose 100 times over than cheat someone else out of a fair victory, and I would never want to have lost to someone who cheated. I would want to rip their throat out with my nails; because that competition, that moment in time only ever happens once. You don’t cheat. You just don’t. Or … you shouldn’t.
But I also get that this is my morality. If you’re an athlete in Iraq under Hussain and you’re going to get tortured if you lose, or your son is going to have his nose cut off or something, then damn I’d take the steroids. It’s all relative, it’s all flipping relative.
None of that is what my friend was asking though. He wanted to know is it ok to cheat if by cheating you make the world a better place? OK yes it’s a poorly-constructed logical argument. What if by cheating you take away not only the win from someone else but the opportunity to be that role model and catalyse those people to live healthier? …. Then again, there are plenty of top athletes in plenty of sports that haven’t had the positive knock-on effect of Lance Armstrong.
Ethics and loyalty is a strange one, too. You can sometimes wonder to what are you loyal? I mean take me… I’m loyal to Cape CrossFit. But break that down … I’m loyal to CrossFit, although I am open to criticise it, and I recognise that it has pros and cons. I’m loyal to Cape CrossFit, because that’s the gym where I started out, and under whose flag I compete. I’m loyal to my coaches, because they’ve taught me a lot of what I know and have been there for me to help me through the mental battles, the physical struggles, the injuries. Yeah, I have my criticisms of the gym and the coaches too, sure, because nothing’s perfect.
So you work in social enterprise: is your loyalty to the field? To your specific company? To the people you work with? All of the above?
You run a company: is your loyalty to your board? To your shareholders? To your staff? To your customers?
The answer, by the way, to all of these, is “Yes” and “It depends on the question.” In most cases you don’t have to choose. Sometimes you do. I think there is, in most cases, a hierarchy, and it depends on the relationship. When it comes to CrossFit, my first loyalty is to myself, so if you ever forced me to choose I could choose whatever seemed most important to me. If CrossFit HQ ever got crazy aggro with rules and Cape CrossFit decided to de-affiliate, then I’d choose at that time whether I wanted to stay with my people, my gym, my coaches, etc., or go train at another gym and compete in the CrossFit competitions. Or compete as an individual. My point being: if it’s just a personal decision you can make a personal choice.
Running a company is similarly straightforward. It’s like that old adage: ‘time, cost, quality: pick two.’ False choice in a way, but also partly true because you push one thing and something else moves. It’s just not good business sense to screw over your customers or your employees. That shit will come back to bite you! At the end of the day, though, if you run a company, your loyalty is clear. Yep, there are externalities with capitalism. But that’s just the thing: morally and ethically, a CEO’s responsibility is to the shareholders, not to some broader grander vision of a happy healthy planet …. Unless those shareholders explicitly have that aspect in their mandate, which is almost never the case.
I’ve said before that not a day goes by here when I don’t have at least one moment where I think: “God, I LOVE it here!” Every once in a while I have that in spades, and this week actually had two such.
The first was Wednesday evening when I was heading from Rondebosch to a coffee shop on Main Road to dish with Amy. I think you can tell the people you care about the most when in a time of stress, or change, or need, they are the ones you want to talk to.
Anyway, the sunset was peeking through that gap between Devils Peak and Table Mountain, and it lit up the cloud in the most breath-taking manner. Of course there was no way to take a photo, but it was postcard epic.
Then Friday morning I was driving into Woodstock on De Waal Drive to see Byron, who as a therapist is probably the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. What he’s done to fix my body … it’s breath-taking. Anyway Cape Town is always gorgeous from De Waal but this morning the colours were perfect, and the valley over towards Stellenbosch was sparkling. Literally sparkling. There was a little bit of fog or mist and with the shades of blue and grey it looked like something out of a video game, or a computer game. Reminded me of some of the themes in Lemmings, I think.
It was that beautiful.
I know I can wax lyrical from time to time. I suspect I might be a bit hypo-manic. But good stuff is happening right now, for me and for a good number of people that I care a lot about.
That makes me happy.  
  • “As self-professed #1 fan I’m pretty ignorant.” – Ellie
  • “That’s not private. Everybody knows how many eggs you eat.” – Jeremy
  • “Just because we’re paying them more doesn’t mean they’re better at their job.” – Misha
  • “It’s kind of like you’re having an affair.” “Oh, I’m totally having an affair!”  – Doug & Ellie
  • “Now we know your weakness.” – Doug
  • “How’s that going to be for you? You’re working for the man now. I mean … you *are* the man. But you’re still working for the man.” – Doug
  • “Actuaries are not known for their sense of humour.” – Michael (could’ve fooled me!)
  • “Well if you have to, you have to.” – Ismail
  • “Welcome to the freezer.” – Anton
  • “Of course I remember!” – Mike
  • “You don’t do things in half measures, do you?” – Jo
  • “Beats flowers & chocolates.” – Michael


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