ON HARRY TRUMAN’S Oval Office desk stood a 13-inch-long glass sign that embodied his view of leadership. It said simply, “The Buck Stops Here!” As Truman explained in his January 1953 farewell address, “The President—whoever he is—has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him.”
When it comes to making ethical decisions, all sorts of people pass the buck, sometimes by meeting their legal obligation to report wrongdoing while ignoring their moral obligation to make sure that wrongdoing is punished. The tension between legal and moral obligations lies at the heart of the ethical dilemma described next.
Like always, Ryan Hamilton finished his history test before anyone else in class. As he waited for the bell to ring, he looked around Mr. Cutts’s classroom. Max Patterson, the basketball team’s star point guard, was … cheating? Yes. He was copying down answers he’d written on his forearm.
Unsure of what to do, Ryan didn’t do anything. After thinking things over, though, he approached Mr. Cutts the next day and reported what he’d seen. Mr. Cutts thanked him and promised to take care of the situation. Ryan thought he’d done the right thing, although he knew the basketball team would suffer without Max on the court.
Yet a week later Max was still playing basketball, leading the team to victory in the first round of the playoffs. And there, in the stands, was Mr. Cutts, cheering on the team.
After the game, Ryan asked his dad if he should do anything else about the situation. In response, his dad pulled up the honor code from the school’s Web site and pointed to this sentence: “Students who suspect cheating are obliged to report their suspicions to a teacher or administrator.”
“That’s just what you did, son,” his dad said. “You’re off the hook.”
But was he?
To help youth explore this dilemma, discuss these questions together:
- Did Ryan do what the honor code required of him?
- Was that enough? Is he “off the hook,” as his dad said?
- Should Ryan take actions that might expose him to criticism from other students? Why or why not?
- Would it be appropriate for him to talk to Mr. Cutts again and ask what actions the teacher took?
- Would it be appropriate to talk with the principal?
- If he does talk to the principal, should he mention that he saw Mr. Cutts cheering at a basketball game after the cheating incident?
- Would it be appropriate to confront Max about what he saw?
- If Max gets thrown off the basketball team, it would negatively affect the other players since they might not make it to the next round of the playoffs. Should that be a factor in Ryan’s choices? What if he wasn’t a basketball player and was just a student?
- How would the situation be different if Ryan had seen Max sell drugs out of his locker? What about abusing a younger student?
Assuming you agree that Ryan should do more, challenge your Scouts or Venturers to come up with three or four different steps he could take next. For each proposed solution, discuss these questions:
- What are the potential benefits of this solution?
- What are the potential negative consequences of this solution?
- Which solution or solutions should Ryan try?
WHAT OTHER QUESTIONS MIGHT YOU ADD? SHARE BELOW.