I recently gave a keynote at a conference where another speaker also presented on leadership and using technology to maintain a competitive edge. During his presentation he talked about downloading music from the Internet for his personal collection. Since some services were shut down by recording companies’ legal action for copyright infringement, he discussed the merits of various new services he was now using (to illegally steal music) to get around this inconvenience.

As I listened to him, I wondered how he might feel about people photocopying pages of his books or duplicating his audio and video products. This got me thinking about the famous piece Jack Griffin wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times years ago entitled, “It’s OK, son, everybody does it.” I decided to update it:

It’s OK, son, everybody does it
When Mark was 6 years old, his parents took him to a movie. Kids under 5 got in free. His parents told the cashier he was five and they didn’t have to pay for Mark. Reacting to his quizzical look as they walked into the theatre, Mark’s Mom said, “It’s OK, son, everybody does it.”

When Mark was 8, Mark’s Dad was caught speeding. He angrily argued the charge with the officer, telling her that she should be spending precious police resources catching real criminals rather than harassing honest, law-abiding citizens. As they drove away he got on his car phone and called directory assistance for the number of an agency that would fight the charge in court for him. As he waited for the number, he said to Mark, “It’s OK, son, everybody does it.”

When he was 12, Mark sat around the dinner table at a family gathering as his Uncle Joe explained where to buy illegal satellite dishes to steal TV service. Another relative explained how to hotwire the cable TV lines to get free service. “These big, rich companies just rip us off anyway,” explained Aunt Marg to Mark. “It’s OK, everybody does it.”

When he was 15, Mark was introduced to web sites that allowed file swapping of music and DVDs to his computer. His best friend, Derek, showed him the hundreds of “free” songs and movies he had downloaded. “It’s cool, everybody does it.”

When he was 17, Mark went to work part-time for a friend of the family who ran a small business. Mark was hired to help update and expand the company’s web site. He needed a copy of the various software programs the company was using set up on his own computer. The company owner told him to install copies of the software with the disks from another machine in the office so they didn’t have to buy legitimate programs for him. When Mark asked if that was allowed, he was told “It’s OK, kid, everybody does it.”

When he went to university on an athletic scholarship, his coach talked to a few of his professors to “cut him some slack” as his grades slipped but his value to the school team soared. An older teammate gave him web site addresses where he could buy essays to hand in as his own. “It’s OK, bud, everybody on the team does it.”

One of Mark’s key essays was identified as plagiarized. His other work was scrutinized and more evidence of cheating was found. He was expelled from the school. His aunts and uncles were outraged. “How could you do this to us?” his father ranted, while his mother sobbed, “You sure never learned anything like that in this family!”
As Jack Griffin observed in his original piece, “if there’s anything the adult world can’t stand, it’s a kid that cheats.”

– Jim Clemmer, based on “It’s OK, son, everybody does it” by Jack Griffin