Achievement vs. Integrity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Millennial Generation – children born between 1980 and 2001 – who have been labeled as “coddled by their parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement,” according to Ron Alsop, author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up.” While I was theorizing on what differentiated this group historically, I came across a survey conducted by a professor at Rutgers University that really clicked for me.

Professor Donald McCabe reports that 95 percent of high school students “have cheated in the course of their education, ranging from letting someone copy their homework to test-cheating.”

But whose failing is this? As a society, we are tacitly encouraging our kids to be achievement-oriented rather than integrity-focused. The brutal truth is that we are centered on results more than on values. If you decry that assertion, Google “how to cheat” and you will find something like 3,000 helpful sites. You-Tube alone offers countless videos on the subject – for example, a detailed narrative on how to change the label on a soda bottle so that, instead of nutritional statistics, there are physics formulas on the wrapper.

Is it any wonder that these kids – our kids – are characterized as having great, and sometimes outlandish, expectations? They are dubbed “trophy kids,” the pride and joy of their parents. And they feel they need to live up to that promise.

The Michigan State Monster Trak Study supports that 44 percent of them showed their lack of loyalty by stating that they would renege on a job-acceptance commitment if a better one came along.

What can we do? Gail McDaniel, a corporate consultant and career coach for college students, says, “Parents and teachers aren’t doing Millennials any favors by constantly adapting to their needs.” I agree. These children are being bred for achievement at the expense of integrity.

It’s tough to expect parents to alter the order of import when everyone else is holding results above ethics. So, what if we were all to stand shoulder to shoulder? Could we create a sea change? Maybe we could begin by reevaluating our own beliefs and then talking with our children about this crucial value.

Just look at Horton in “Horton Hatches the Egg,” by Dr. Seuss. This elephant was “faithful one hundred percent” – in fact, he is a symbol of the triumph of hard work, patience, and loyalty. You see, Mayzie, who laid the egg, was tired and bored and wanted a break. While she opted for a vacation in Palm Beach and abandoned her egg, Horton vowed to sit on the egg until it hatched – and he “said what he meant and meant what he said.”

Compare Horton to students who cheat because, according to the survey, “…others around them do the same thing; they see no need to work hard… they experience immense pressure to get good grades; they do not want to disappoint their teachers or parents….”

The common denominator between students who cheat or don’t honor employment contracts and Horton who sits for 51 weeks despite his unhappiness: you do what it takes. The discriminating factor: integrity is the priority.

Horton already gets it, and his character conjures up all those good notions of keeping your word, being honest, and sticking it out despite your fears.

Tuck-in Tips

  • What principles does Horton live by?
  • What did he have to give up and how did he benefit?
  • Talk about a time when you made a decision because it was the right thing to do.
  • Horton showed that he was patient and persistent. Even though he was made fun of by others, he stuck to his word and did the honorable thing. In the end, he was rewarded for his good choices and his stick-to-it-ive-ness.