Rational Justification

I’m intrigued by the recent survey results of the Josephson Institute.

There’s a Hole in Our Moral Ozone and It’s Getting Bigger

Survey of 29,000 high school students reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty in the workforce of future – stealing, lying, and cheating rates climb to alarming rates

The survey says: (with a phrase “stolen from” Family Feud)


More than one in three boys (35 percent) and one-fourth of the girls (26 percent) — a total of 30 percent overall — admitted stealing from a store within the past year. In 2006 the overall theft rate was 28  percent (32 percent males, 23 percent females).

Students who attend private secular and religious schools were less likely to steal, but still the theft rate among non-religious independent school students was more than one in five (21 percent) while 19 percent who attend religious schools also admitted stealing something from a store in the past year.

Honors students (21 percent), student leaders (24 percent) and students involved in youth activities like the YMCA and school service clubs (27 percent) were less likely to steal, but still more than one in five committed theft.

Twenty-three percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative in the past year (the same as 2006) and 20 percent confessed they stole something from a friend. Boys were nearly twice as likely to steal from a friend as girls (26 percent to 14 percent).


More than two of five (42 percent) said that they sometimes lie to save money. Again, the male-female difference was significant: 49 percent of the males, 36 percent of the females. In 2006, 39 percent said they lied to save money (47 percent males, 31 percent females).

Thirty-nine percent of students in private religious schools admitted to lying as did 35 percent of the students attending private non-religious schools.

More than eight in ten students (83 percent) from public schools and religious private schools confessed they lied to a parent about something significant. Students attending nonreligious independent schools were somewhat less likely to lie to parents (78 percent).

More than one in four (26 percent) confessed they lied on at least one or two questions on the survey. Experts agree that dishonesty on surveys usually is an attempt to conceal misconduct.


Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse. A substantial majority (64 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (38 percent did so two or more times), up from 60 percent and 35 percent in 2006. There were no gender differences on the issue of cheating on exams.

Students attending non-religious independent schools reported the lowest cheating rate (47 percent) while 63 percent of students from religious schools cheated. Responses about cheating show some geographic disparity: Seventy percent of the students residing in the southeastern U.S. admitted to cheating, compared to 64 percent in the west, 63 percent in the northeast, and 59 percent in the midwest.

More than one in three (36 percent) said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment. In 2006 the figure was 33 percent.

While these numbers are higher that I anticipated … and certainly higher than I would like to see, I was astonished by another reported number in the survey.

Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics. A whopping 93 percent said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77 percent said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Never underestimate the ability of people to justify their own behavior or ethical lapses.  The reality of sin is seen everywhere.

No doubt, these youth have lived in a culture where what is ethical is determined by what gives me the advantage.  Many will use this as further proof that we need to place the 10 Commandments in the public sphere.  I suggest that growing up in a culture where one’s parents disregard even simple laws teaches our children that all ethics are situational, and therefore as long as I know someone who is less ethical than me, what I do is ok.

  • Speed limits are routinely ignored, unless there is a police officer present.  (Then it seems that only the police officer is speeding.)
  • Common courtesy is the exception rather than the norm.  We don’t mind if others overhear our criticism.
  • “Everyone cheats on taxes” is almost a mantra.
  • You’ve heard those stories this summer about people getting gasoline for $0.39/gallon and no one reports the mistake.  They call their friends and family so they can take advantage of the error.

If High School youth are engaged in this kind of unethical behavior, look back about 10 years and examine what their parents were doing.  This can only be turned around by the actions and values of the parents of today’s elementary school aged children.

Josephson Institute website

Pondering Pastor


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