By Charis Denison, Prajna Consulting
Daily Dilemma — GoodCharacter.com

The Situation

Ben said good-bye to his friends and started heading for home. He was in a great mood. He had two weeks off from school for winter break, he had just passed the test for his driver’s license, and with no homework he could hang out with his friends whenever he wanted to. Things couldn’t be better. He turned his iPod up and smiled. As he passed the last row of stores before the hill leading to his house something caught his eye at the bank. Something was sticking out of the ATM machine. As he got closer, he saw it was cash.

Ben looked around. There was nobody. No cars, nobody walking nearby. Someone must have just used the machine and then forgotten to take the money. Whoever it was, was gone now. He walked over to the machine and took the money out. Sixty dollars. There was also a receipt sticking out.

Ben looked around again. Still no one. He could turn the money in at the bank tomorrow—it was after hours now. But, really, it was sixty bucks! Probably not much to the customer, but it would make a difference as to how many Christmas gifts he could get for his family.. or new music for his iPod.

Does it really count if you only do something like this once? Ben thought this over. It’s not like he’s a thief or anything. Someone messed up by leaving the cash there in the first place. He felt pretty good about taking it. It’s a one-time deal. And no one ever needs to know. He put the money in his pocket, crumpled up the receipt, and walked away.

As the next song started playing, Ben remembered something his grandfather always said, “Every time you lie, you get closer to being a liar.” But this wasn’t the same thing. Was it? He turned up the volume and headed up the hill to home.

Notes for the Facilitator

There is a great scene in the film, “To Die For” where Nicole Kidman’s character says, “ What’s the point of doing something good if no one is watching.” This case is classic because, while predictably trite, we have ALL been here. Something like this has happened in some form to all of us. And in that moment, in some sense we all made a choice to be a hero or a liar. Besides, Ben seems like a good kid, sort of like us. Does that make us want to excuse him, or does it make us feel more frustration at his choice?

For a case like this, it is great to get some real debate going and then bring up the test many use to guide their sense of ethics: what if every one did what I am about to do? This can apply to a good deed or a bad one, but makes stuff like this a bit more concrete. It is helpful to get everyone to come up with a moment in their lives where they made a choice (positive or negative) and apply this test. Then, go around and ask each person to share the snapshot of the world they just created. What does it look like? Would you want to live there? A nice chance for a discussion about ownership and accountability here if you have the energy to take it on.

Discussion Questions (& Debate Topics, Writing Assignments, etc.)

  • Trade places with Ben. What would you do?
  • Would your choice be different if there had been no receipt?
  • Would your choice be different if you knew the money belonged to the bank, and not to an individual?
  • Would your choice be affected if there were other people walking by?
  • Would your choice be different if you were with friends? How so?
  • Have you ever done something you knew was wrong because nobody was watching? How did you feel when you did it? Would you do it again? Why, why not?
  • What do you think about what Ben’s grandfather says about being a liar? Do you think the same principle applies to Ben’s actions?
  • What happens when you apply Ben’s grandfather’s words to cheating? Do you agree that every time you cheat you come closer to becoming a “cheater?”
  • Think of a choice you made recently that might affect more people than just you. Now imagine that every one in the world did that same thing. What would the world be like? Would you want to live there?