Scouting magazine

Help Scouts bridge the gap between legal and moral responsibilities

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.

The Dilemma
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?

For Discussion
To help youth explore this dilemma, discuss these questions together:

Next Steps
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: