Conspiracy Theories

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about financial karma. In my athletic life, I have been watching another example of karma – the exposure of an entire generation of athletic fraud. It’s a classic human drama and extremely painful to the millions that placed their happiness in the hands of sporting heroes.

When I lived in Asia, the staff at the office used to find my tendency to think the best of people to be quaint, and extremely naive. Despite chuckling at me, it was seen as a positive quality by my boss and peers.

The meltdown in cycling got me thinking about the different conspiracies I’ve experienced in my life:

  • Sexual Abuse of Children and Minors
  • Infidentily
  • Fraudulent Transfer
  • Larceny
  • Perjury
  • False Academic Credentials
  • Athletic Fraud (doping, course cutting)
  • Wilful Misrepresentation

That’s a pretty big list for simple guy from Vancouver.

As you’re pulling down the cycling posters on your garage wall, know that I feel your pain. I came to a similar conclusion about my own sport (triathlon) years ago. It really sucked for a couple weeks but I came out of it. You’ll come out of it.

Despite experiencing a laundry list of conspiracies, I continue to believe that trusting people is the best policy. However, I have certain rules of thumb that I apply in personal and business dealings.

First up, people generally focus on the financial risks of fraud. The true suffering is emotional and the true cost is lost time. So my tips are designed to minimize wasted time and limit the suffering when life disappoints.

There’s never just one cockroach – fraud runs in patterns, over time and in peer groups.

Force yourself to take references and listen to what people are telling you. People never want to give bad news, especially to strangers.

Check resumes – criminal and credit checks are far cheaper than what a crooked relationship will cost you. I’ve come across a surprising number of successful people that fake their credentials.

Follow the money – if you have concerns then audit the cash. A clear audit policy is a very positive incentive to the key people in your life.

Use the “death” penalty – remember that people rarely act alone, when you come across a serious violation of your personal ethics then clear out the entire group of peers. In business this can mean firing the entire management team. In my personal life, it’s more common to remove yourself from the peer group.

The points may sound draconian. To the above, I’d add forgiveness. Forgive people when things don’t work out – holding a grudge extends your suffering and costs you additional time, that you will never get back.

When you’re in the midst of the fraud, write everything down. We do a poor job of remembering when stressed. I started a habit of writing “file notes” when I was 20 years old and they have proven highly valuable.

While people change, the personality traits that cause people to make a habit of the easy way are tough to overcome. One of the reasons I write things down is because I’m always tempted to bring people back into my life after a few years have passed. Forgiveness is different than having someone in your inner circle.

In the uncertain world of human relationships, remember that past decisions are the most reliable indicator of future choices.

Be your own hero.