You’re Not Dishonest If You Don’t Get Caught!

Jul 23 07:48 2007 Chuck Gallagher Print This Article

Genarlow Wilson's case has drawn national attention. This article does not debate the merits of Genarlow's extraordinary sentence, but rather looks at the attitudes of young people about ethics and the choices they make. Keep in mind, every choice has a consequence.

The formal part of the presentation I was making to a church youth group had just finished,Guest Posting when I asked the group if they had any questions. One girl lifted her hand nervously and then asked, “What did your children think about their daddy going to prison?” That question caused me to pause. I wasn’t sure I could answer. I knew what they felt. We shared that with each other often, but I wasn’t sure I ever looked at it from the mental perspective only.

The consequences of my choices were devastating. My marriage was destroyed. It’s hard to share a life together when you destroy someone’s trust. My career was over. When you are guilty of embezzlement you will not keep your license or job as a CPA. My assets were gone. Making restitution meant selling all that I had accumulated and then seeking the help of family and friends. Frankly, that was part of the consequence. Facing prison – well that was rock bottom. The “somebody” that I was once known as, had changed to being the “somebody” that few wanted to know.

All that said, the one thing that did survive, by the grace of God, was the love of my two sons. They were both old enough to understand what I had done and what was happening. And, I made a commitment that I would tell them the whole truth. I may have made serious mistakes, but I had no intention to continue that process by deceiving my children. I made mistakes; however, I was not the mistake. If any good would come from this, my sons would understand that every choice has a consequence. I was living proof.

As soon as I finished my answer, out of the back of the room a young man blurted out, “You’re not dishonest if you don’t get caught!” I was stunned. As a motivational speaker and founder of the Choices Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the message of choices and consequences to young people, I had just finished a presentation that clearly, and unequivocally, said there is a consequence.

Wobbled, stunned, I’m not really sure what I felt. What I do recall is the reaction that I saw and heard from the kids. A few looked shocked by this young man’s statement – a look of disbelief at what they had just heard. Others, although a small number, just giggled. It was as if this small, yet vocal, minority were testing me and the message I had just delivered. One thing was for sure, there was silence that followed as the group awaited a response.

At the risk of sounding egotistical or self absorbed, as a Motivational Speaker, speaking to business executives and young people alike, I do not find that the message I deliver is often misunderstood. Bad choices that leads one to prison isn’t hard to misunderstand – really a straight forward message.

I do find, however, that the opinion that this young man had the courage to share is not that uncommon among adult audiences. The only difference is – they don’t state it out loud – they demonstrate it through their actions. And, since every choice has a consequence, they will reap what they sow. It’s the law of reciprocity in action – a universal law that we all must live by – and one many seem to think does not exist.

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As an example, a friend, who conducts training sessions with young folks for the Princeton Review, said that one of the senior high kids in her review class recently asked, following a session, “Now that we have these tools, how do we cheat on the test and not get caught?”

That got him kicked out of the program. He was not allowed to return and his parents were livid. Every choice has a consequence. Yet, the message that was reinforced to this young person, by his parents, was the consequence was too severe. In fact, they argued that there should be no consequence at all – after all, he was just trying to improve his odds at getting into the school of his dreams. “He really was just kidding,” said the parents. Right!

Regardless of the college or university I present to, invariably after each presentation, there are several young folks who share their concern about the consequences of the choices they’ve made. Young people need the message. And, adult leaders have the responsibility to deliver it. It’s easy to teach the right thing. It’s more effective when the teacher has experienced the consequences first hand and knows the pain involved.

If we want to have more effective business organizations we must raise our ethical standards. If we want a more responsive government, we must chose leaders who understand the power of making ethical choices in the face of special interest temptations. If we want to tap into the power of spiritual growth, we must live by the spiritual laws that govern us all. And, the hundreds of little choices we make daily, become the millions of choices that have gotten each of us to where we are today.

“You’re not dishonest if you don’t get caught!” Hum…let me tell you a story, I replied.

A young, well respected, star football player in Georgia, Genarlow Wilson, was at the peak of his high school career being scouted by many college teams. Everyone knew he was going somewhere. He had good looks, good grades and great ability – the sky was the limit. But remember – choices and consequences.

For fun, and to celebrate a holiday, he and some of his friends decided to have a party - nothing outrageous – just some high school fun. As the party progressed some, including this gifted young man, made choices that seemed, at the time, very innocent. He had consensual sex with an underage young lady – his 15 year old girlfriend. Neither seemed concerned with their action, after all, they both agreed. After all, who would know? The only people there were their friends and it was a party.

“Remember young man, you’re not dishonest if you don’t get caught?”

While the fun was at it height some were so taken away with what was happening they thought – “How cool. We can video this. Funny, huh?” Remember, every choice has a consequence.

What do you suppose happened? The video was exposed. Perhaps – You Tube – perhaps some other media. What ever the source, the choices, the actions and the illegal action was caught. The consequence – this young man’s life was changed forever. Ten years in state prison was his sentence. (Note today, July 2007, the law has changed and the Georgia Supreme Court is considering what should happen to Genarlow Wilson)

“Young man,” I asked, “you don’t have to tell me what, but have you ever done anything wrong?” He quietly responded, “Yes.” “Is there anyone else on the face of the earth who knows about this?” Now the room was quiet and the pause seemed to go on forever. “Uh-huh, my sister.” “Did you get caught,” I asked. His response was telling and revealing.

“Not yet!”

My next comments were not to him or for him – they were for the group. He already knew the answer. The group needed the reinforcement. “Folks, the next time you’re faced with a choice – the result of which could be negative to you, remember every choice has a consequence and you have the power to choose the outcome. Choose wisely. You will not escape the consequence of your choices. Genarlow Wilson is in prison today because of his choices at a party. My life changed forever because of prison and the choices I made. Every choice has a consequence – and the cool thing is – we get to choose the outcome.”

The Choices Foundation, supported by those who see the vision of helping young people understand how to become effective citizens by creating opportunities from possibilities, provides programs to young people. To find out how your organization can receive a Choices Foundation presentation go to .

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Chuck Gallagher
Chuck Gallagher

Chuck Gallagher is an international speaker and author who shares his life experience in a way that is meaningful for his audiences. For information on Chuck’s presentations or how to subscribe to his free ezine...visit

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