The (Dis)Honest Olympics are Coming

The Olympics for 2016 are due to start next Friday (05.08.16) in Rio, Brazil. Already, the Games are clouded in controversy with stories of incomplete athlete’s residences, poor sanitation and the dreaded Zika virus. There was also the small mention of the impending disqualification / ban of the whole Russian Olympic Team as a result of systematic doping within the Russian Confederation. Apparently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have yet to decide as to their participation in the tournament, a decision which may be delayed until shortly before Friday’s Opening Ceremony. A political fudge, for sure. A different sort of fudge to the one we will be discussing throughout this piece.

And yet, no one is surprised. Not since the Ben Johnson scandal at the Seoul Olympics have the populace really trusted what was before their very eyes? Even Ireland, a country which prides itself on the success of its athletes were ‘taken-in’ by Michelle Smith’s meteoric swimming feats during the Atlanta games.

Remember folks, if it’s too good to be true, that’s because it most likely is not true. Like a cancer on the ethos, the spirit of The Games, dishonesty, cheating, deception have forever tarnished The Olympics.

So, what makes people cheat? The win at all costs attitude? The power, the glory? Or, is it simply human nature? Are we, literally, born to cheat? The Promoter endeavoured to find out, as he watched the Netflix documentary (Dis)Honesty: The Truth about Lies. (Dis)Honesty is a Bond/360 Production in association with CNBC and is based upon the series of experiments conducted by Professor Dan Ariely from Duke University, North Carolina.

Let me ask you, Dear Reader:
Have you told a lie since the beginning of 2015?
Do you still consider yourself to be an honest person?

If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions above, you are in the majority. You are being honest. What’s more, is that you have stumbled upon the crux of the problem. You see, we all tell little white lies, now and again, don’t we? Do we feel guilty about this? Not really. Why not? Because these ‘lil fibs’ fall inside the realms of acceptability, known as The Fudge Factor. The Fudge Factor is the boundaries within which an untruth may be told, without any impact upon the protagonist’s conscience. One person’s Fudge Factor will differ from another’s. They can also be significantly impacted by a number of external factors. These factors include: self-deception, creativity, social acceptability (the culture), lying for the benefit of others, and perceived ‘distance from the act’.

This Promotor remembers an instance whilst on an entrepreneurial course (not so long ago), that the class was asked by the guest speaker, ‘Hands up, who considers themselves honest?’ All people within the classroom put their hand up – except one! This was fascinating for the Promoter. He never did get to ask his classmate why he didn’t put up his hand. There really was, no need.

We, at Personal-a-Teas, have found through our primary market research, that people are most proud to declare ‘honesty’ as a stand-out trait which best describes their personality. Honesty is a proud and core principal as to who we are, worth exhibiting.

Self-deception can be a powerful characteristic. We, as humans tend to engage in this activity. We all know someone, who clearly thinks they are ‘better’ than they truly are – correct? It may manifest itself as arrogance. Also, as part of our survival instinct, we will tend to deceive ourselves in a ‘positive’ way. For instance, for no apparent reason, a smoker will think, that they will be the one to escape the shadow of terminal illness as a result of their nicotine addiction.

People can be very creative in their ability to formulate reasons to deceive. This can be observed typically through the prism of sales and marketing. The (Dis)Honesty documentary highlights how the use of deceptive marketing techniques in the promotion of the book chartering the loutish behaviours of a young man called Tucker Max actually lead to mass hysteria and national outrage across the US. What started as some unscrupulous marketing techniques ‘to get noticed’ spiralled out of control and grew a life of its own. (On the plus side: Tucker Max, his book and then B-movie sold millions!)

Social Acceptability:
This is key. If our peers deem ‘cheating, dishonesty, manipulation’ to be ok, then the propensity to increase the size of our own ‘Fudge Factor’ will ensue. This is the influence of culture and it cannot be under-estimated. Humans are social creatures, so, if the environment upon which we find ourselves, is inherently corrupt, there is a significant chance, over time, we too will succumb to temptations. We have all heard the tale of the budding politician who has the best intentions to change a culture of corruption, or the professional cyclist who would never dope. They actually become consumed by the cultures of deceit that they were proudly against. This is the power of the need to be accepted by one’s peers.

Lying for the Benefit of Others:
Dr Ariely ran a number of experiments on polygraph tests. Polygraphs are also known as ‘lie detectors’ and they sense impulses within our bodies, typically given as a result of the discomfort when someone is being deceitful. Through the baseline experiments, the polygraph sensed when the test subject was telling a lie (within the context for themselves). However, when the subject was encouraged to lie, for the advantage of a ‘noble cause’, a charity, a family member, etc. the polygraph did not pick up the deception.

Golf players: ‘have you ever ‘kicked your ball’ into a more advantageous position?’ Be honest! But you would never have picked your ball up to move it, right? No way! [That would be too obvious! You would achieve the same result, though]. Soccer players, have you ever fallen to the ground (a little too easily) in order to gain an advantageous free-kick? Again, be honest! These are examples of how, an element of perceived distance, a potential ambiguity, can prompt a deceitful course of action. The same principle can be extended to banking practices, online dating profiles etc.

What Dr. Ariely found through these studies, may on the surface appear somewhat trivial. However, the results are indeed far from trivial. Over the course of testing 40,000 subjects he found that only 20 people were found to be ‘completely untrustworthy’, that their lies were so big they appeared unable to ‘help themselves’. He also found 70% of people more than willing to tell ‘White Lies’ – they were more than willing to operate within their own ‘Fudge Factor’.

Let’s put this into context. Given the fact that when a test subject cheated, they received one dollar per cheat. The impact of this was huge. In monetary terms; Big Liars cost ca. $400. White Liars cost: $50,000. Please, take a minute to digest these figures.

In conclusion, we as humans have a propensity to lie. And in doing so, we can do significant harm to our social structures, ultimately leading to the suffering of others and the breakdown of systems. How can we reduce this impact? Is there a way to promote more truthful living? An honest way of life?

What Dr. Ariely found was that when we function within a culture of honesty and morality the levels of untruthfulness, deceit and spin will decrease significantly. In one such experiment, similar in structure to the one’s mentioned above, Dr. Ariely’s multi-denominational test-subjects were asked to list ‘The Ten Commandments’.

The result: Irrespective of the opportunity to gain monetary advantage, no one cheated.

Common untruths, or questions which lead to untruths!
‘Does my bum look big in this?’
‘Relax, I’m a safe driver’
Santa Claus
Weapons of Mass Destruction
‘Be Yourself’
‘Do you have a criminal record?’
‘All animals are created equally’

Ref: Rio Olympics 2016 plunged into chaos as IOC ruling on Russia ban delayed until 11th hour