Essay on “An Ethical Dilemma”
While still at school I was aware that a classmate was about to cheat on a national examination. Though I disapproved of him doing so I decided not to intervene either by discussing the matter with him or by informing anyone in authority either to prevent it happening or to correct it afterwards. Though my decision was purely out of concern for myself, retrospectively I can see that many circumstances pertaining to that particular situation led to the decision that I made on that occasion.
I discovered the boy’s intention through his boastfulness. Something of an attention-seeker he could not resist informing others of his plans in advance, though he was very secretive as to how he would do so. All I knew was that he had a means of accessing source materials while in the examination room without it being obvious he was doing so. He also let slip that his idea was foolproof ‘unless he was searched’; an item of information that told me his intentions may indeed have been thwarted had I or another classmate alerted the school authorities. I believed he was telling the truth. Though boastful, he was not given to dishonesty, at least in that respect. The proof of his boast was to come later with the grade he obtained, a very high grade that surprised his teachers given it was a subject in which he had proved himself academically weak.
At the time, insofar as the decision I made to say nothing arose from conscious reasoning, I would cite several factors. Firstly I did not entirely trust the discretion of my teachers. I was concerned that I may have been revealed as the informant and would have to face any repercussions coming out of that. The boy could be something of a bully. Secondly there was that sense of honor that tends to afflict peer groups, including pupils at school. The idea of being a ‘snitch’ or a ‘tell-tale’ was not a welcome one and I knew that amongst my peers the fact of informing would be treated far less leniently amongst my classmates than the misdemeanor being informed upon. Thirdly, this was a national examination. The boy’s activity made very little difference to me; his score would be evaluated along with thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of others taking the same examination. Had it been an important examination taken on the level of a single class, say, then I may have informed upon him for fear that he would bias the grades overall in his favor and to my detriment. Finally there was the sense that the boy’s actions were, quite simply, none of my business. I was not the boy. I was not a member of the school authority. I was not a representative of the examination board. I did not care for the boy either way, neither liked nor disliked him, and informing upon him would have felt somehow gratuitous, a vindictive act. It was an ethical dilemma perhaps, but not my ethical dilemma. It was for others to keep their own house in order.
Clearly my decision was taken from the point of view of individualism. It did not serve any goal of mine to expose the boy’s intentions and, indeed, had I done so it may have worked to my detriment.
I have no regrets about the decision that I took. Indeed, it has been years since I even thought about it and I only remembered it while considering what to write for this essay. Under identical circumstances I would make an identical decision today.