Recently I have been asked to be the "Senior Professional Ethics Advisor" at the United States Air Force Academy for Cadet Squadron 37, one of 40 squadrons at the Academy. The role is to support the 100 18 - 24 year old members of the squadron to live by the code, "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does". My first response was, "Wow". As a former cadet myself some 50 years ago, I, too, attempted to live by that code as I went through the Academy. It's a tough call. expecting young people who want to perform at their very best, pass every exam, impress their superiors and be admired by their colleagues to live every minute by this code. Who could honestly say we have never lied, stolen, cheated, or tolerated someone else's infractions of these three? Probably no one. The Bible says not one of us is good, who can live by such a code. Yet the Academy demands it. It is a way of getting a disparate group of young people from very diverse backgrounds to consider character above convenience and even success as a defender of a nation's freedom and way of life. You could be willing to die for your country. will you not also be willing to not lie, steal or cheat?
The consequence of violating the Honor Code is expulsion. When I was a cadet over 100 people in just one year were shown the door because of a significant cheating ring which some participated in and others tolerated. or went along with this behaviour. Devastating, as many were the cream of our sports stars who were simply trying to pass some exams, because if their grades were not good enough they could not compete. These were good guys, personal buddies we had gone through a lot with. Yet the code had to be respected and upheld. It has got me to thinking, how do we, who wish to excel and be our best, do so in a way that does not expose some flaws of character that show our humanness at its weakest?
I believe it starts with looking at not the behaviour, the lie, the act of cheating or stealing, but at the parts of our human psyche that drive us to do it. This is the approach the Academy takes, and it is to be commended. Therefore, as I take up this post as professional ethics advisor, I shall be helping to shape behaviour by first of all helping the cadets to shape their bone deep beliefs and values about themselves and their world.
In future blogs, I'll attempt to explain how it is we can truly change our behaviour by changing the way we think and feel about ourselves and our approach to life. Why not come on the journey with me and see how you, too, can become more the person of character you want to be?