Dear Maria,

I LOVE to attend trivia nights and go to many of them throughout the year with the same team. We are fairly good: we have won some, were middle-of-the-road for others, and most importantly, we have a BLAST! Last week we attended a trivia night at a Catholic Church. One of our regular team members could not attend and one of our table regulars invited her niece to join in. (The niece was about 15 years younger than all the rest of us at the table.) All was well until my friend sitting next to me noticed the “new gal” cheating by looking up the answers on her phone. My friend did not bring it to my attention until midway through the game, at about the same point when I noticed the cheating, too.

I know I should have said something to her, but didn’t want to cause a scene. Obviously, my other friend didn’t want to cause a scene either, so it was never mentioned. I feel terrible now for not doing anything about it. I feel like I did the cheating as well by not confronting her on the spot. I know I need to confront her, but I don’t have her contact info so would need to go through someone else to get it. It is eating at me. I can go to confession and get this off of my heart, but how should I handle this? Part of me wants to let it go so as not to hurt the family members at the table.
My Cheating Heart

Dear My Cheating Heart,

Oh, there’s plenty of guilt to go around. Don’t carry more than your share.

That was quite a stunt the niece pulled. Cheating takes the fun out of the competition. Unless winning is everything. Then, I guess she was enjoying herself. Whatever. If alcohol was permitted, she had to have been 21 to play. She should have known better.

What’s up with the aunt? Giving the niece the benefit of the doubt, we might suppose that she didn’t know onsite research via cell phone was not allowed. Or, maybe, as the youngest at the table, she felt intimidated and the phone boosted her confidence. Pshaw. It was up to her aunt, a team regular, to tell her to put the phone away. The silence was tacit approval.

The folks hosting the trivia night also dropped the ball. They’re all volunteers, but there still should have been enough eyes on the tables to guard against anyone tapping into a lifeline. Granted, it’d be tough to see: the tables are crammed with snacks and 8-10 people, elbow-to-elbow, with hardly space between tables to squeeze by. An honest contest, however, is crucial. Any hint of foul play or unfair advantage spoils the game and sullies the host. If this church hopes for a good turnout at a future trivia night, they better clean up their act.

Last, but not least, your team allowed the cheating to go on for the entire game. At least two of you saw it and did nothing. This is an example of groupthink. According to Psychology Today, “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation.” In the interest of not making a scene, no one spoke up. One of you could have taken the aunt aside during a break. Or, those sitting closest to the “new gal” might have asked her to stop. In short, the collective silence ruined the night.

I was unconscious, half-asleep
The water is warm till you discover how deep
I wasn’t jumping, for me it was a fall
It’s a long way down to nothing at all – Stuck in a Moment, U2

Reading your letter on a computer screen in my quiet office, it’s easy to judge. But, I know the stress you must have felt that night. (FULL DISCLOSURE: My husband and I love trivia nights, too. They can be disorganized, loud, messy events. I often serve as team scribe. Oy, the pressure!) For you, several factors were in play: the usual team was disrupted; the familial bond of aunt and niece and not knowing if/when to interfere; the fast pace and high energy of the event; and, perhaps, fatigue and alcohol. These all conspired to keep you from doing the right thing. Groupthink comes on in a flash. Objective observers might shake their heads in disbelief, but participants know: “You had to be there.” We’ve all been on all sides. Let the one who hasn’t be the first to cast a stone.

I don’t recommend contacting the niece directly. Something needs to be said, but it shouldn’t come from you. Speak with her aunt. You might say, “Ever since our last trivia night, something has been nagging at me. I couldn’t help but see your niece checking her phone for answers to the questions. I feel badly that I didn’t do anything to stop what I saw.” Her response will tell you lots. Consider inviting the person who sat next to you to join the conversation. Your teammates owe it to each other to clear the air before your next gathering. Your trust has been shaken. Even with the old gang reunited, the groupthink regret will linger. Gather your courage now, and speak up. Think of it as a sort of do-over. As for going to confession, may the sacrament’s grace lift your burden and heal your heart. You’ve carried this long enough.

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter along the stony path
It’s just a moment, this time [too] shall pass
Stuck in a Moment, U2

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.