Tell Peyton Manning and Volkswagen: Dishonesty Always Catches Up To You

Peyton Manning

As the Peyton Manning and University of Tennessee sexual assault scandal continues to gather momentum after Super Bowl 50, I think it’s time we address a simple little law of living with other human beings in society: Dishonesty only works in the short-term. 

It makes sense, and aren’t you glad of it? Try living amongst other people with whom you can never quite be sure if they’re gonna mess with you or pull the rug out from under you.

Oh wait, that’s the plot from The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead Season 4 art

Before I go on, it must be said that this Peyton Manning situation is about way more than dishonesty and covering up unethical behavior. It’s also about a wider culture in sports that allows dudes to do disgusting stuff to women and get away with it. But I gotta focus here.

A fellow athlete at the University of Tennessee, Malcom Saxon, even wrote Manning a letter in 2002 pleading with him to tell the truth and restore the reputation of the trainer he allegedly rubbed his balls on. He didn’t come clean, and now here we are, and it’s gotten really ugly.

Here’s a basic fact of life: you mess with the bull, you get the horns. You break someone’s trust in you, it makes it harder to live with freedom and autonomy. It may take 20 years, like with Peyton Manning, but it will always come back. People will hate you and say things about you, they’ll be motivated to dig up old dirt on you and write articles about you, like Shaun King, in his NY Daily News story that first broke the news the day after the Super Bowl. Shaun King, from what we’re finding, is kind of a shady dude. And guess what? He did a shady, back-stabby thing and now Peyton’s in a big mess.

The alternative to being dishonest? Acting honorably, something we talk about often here at YMN. This simply means:

Doing the right thing, as often as possible, over time and in every situation.

It’s hard to pull off. It takes immense self-control and courage, but it’s the only way. Unless you want to always be looking over your shoulder for the rest of this ONE LIFE you get to lead before you die, then buck up and look to the long term. Ask yourself:

Is the decision I’m about to make going to come back to haunt me someday?

Simple question, but difficult to answer when you’re salivating over X, Y or Z staring at you in the moment.

To bring us home, let’s hear from the highly influential and very smart behavioral scientist Dan Ariely in his recent New York Times piece called “Dishonesty Only Provides Short-Term Benefits”.

He’s saying the same thing I am here, using the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal as another way of looking at the long-term problems that come from dishonesty.

Also: Volkswagen’s cover-up has led to 24 deaths and will most likely cost up to $87 billion to clean up. That is more people dying than in all but the most horrific mass shootings in America. That is an impossibly ridiculous amount of money the company is now going to have to pay, and Volkswagen will most likely never be seen the same in the eyes of consumers.

THAT’S what being dishonest means, eventually, always.

Here’s Dr. Dan (with my emphasis added):

Is honesty for suckers? If by “suckers” you mean people who care about others and the social good, then yes, it is. If by “suckers” you mean people who care about the long-term aspects of their business (see the drop in stock price of VW) then yes, it is. And if by “suckers” you mean people who care about the meaning of their brand (I own a VW Golf and I don’t think I will ever be able to look at it again in the same way) then yes again.

Why do people cheat? For the same reason we text and drive, and overeat — they are not good for us long-term, but we do them because we are just not good at thinking about the long term.

The bottom line is that dishonesty can be a good strategy for someone who is trying to maximize short-term profits… But, if you have any long-terms plans it is important for your business to create a culture of honesty that will help the employees overcome short-term incentives for dishonesty and keep them in line with the long-term best interest of the company and society.

And there is one more thing to consider, which is that when an individual or a company acts dishonestly, they pollute the trust pool — they erode the social trust we have in one another — and we are all worse for it. This is why we are, and need to be, outraged with VW, and why their act is not just about their cars – it is a betrayal of the social trust, and the trust fallout I suspect will have an impact on all German manufacturers and all car makers.

If you find yourself being dishonest and getting away with it, stick around. We’ll prove to you it’s not going to last.

If you find yourself maintaining honesty in the face of others who are cheating, stick around. We’ll provide you support and help you navigate these unsafe waters.

If you’re not convinced that I’m right, stick around and tell us why. We’re always ready to have a conversation.

About Ben Keeler

Ben is the founder of YMN, a former teacher and coach, and an unabashed baseball fanatic. Go Nats!

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