Where I come from the tendency is to categorize people one of two ways – you’re either a grace person or a truth person. Me, I tend to be a truth person (big surprise!), although I often wish I could be more like my husband who is clearly a grace person….and liked by everyone because of it. Actually, I wish I could find the right balance between grace and truth…then I’d be truly wise and always know what to do in every situation, but I digress.
As many of you know, I’ve been taking online classes, so I can finish my degree. One of my classes this semester is an ethics class. Recently, the professor posed the following essay question:
“You are an English teacher at a high school. One of your pupils is a bright and dedicated young woman, whom you have always enjoyed teaching. She has often achieved A grades throughout her school years, and is now in her final year and getting ready to graduate. Unfortunately she has been very ill this term, and missed several weeks of schooling. She has just turned in a report which is worth 40% of her final grade, but you realize that she did not write it herself – she has copied a report found online and tried to pass it off as her own work.
If you report her plagiarism to the school authorities it will be entered on her permanent record and she will no longer be eligible to attend the university that she has planned on attending for the past year. If you refuse to accept the report, her final mark will be very poor and may harm her chances of being chosen for this university. If you mark the paper as though you believed it was her own work, she will do very well, and stand every chance of getting her desired university place.
What should you do? Be sure to refer to an ethical value system or approach and a philosopher associated with that approach to explain your perspective/response– the value system could be one that you reject or that you embrace in helping you to explain your decision-making process.”
So, as you may have already guessed, my first (and natural) response to the question posed was to take a truth stance, which is probably best categorized as the hard line approach to the situation. The student obviously knew the rules in advance and yet she cheated, stole, and lied about it, believing her teacher was either too dumb or too soft to catch her out. No sir, not me. I’m nobody’s fool….
Of course, as one does in these kinds of situations – that is, situations where we…okay, maybe not we……where I like to feel as if I’ve achieved some level of moral superiority in my truth position, I read the question to my husband and asked what approach he would take to the situation, fully believing that he was going to give the same response I did. I mean, after all, right is right and wrong is wrong, and clearly this situation was black and white. Right? Um….no.
After a minute or two to ponder his response, my beloved husband clearly took the softie route….I mean, the grace route. If he were the teacher, he would call the student in and give her a chance to confess; and if she did confess all would be forgiven, and he would allow her a few extra days (because of her situation of being ill and out of school for several weeks) to do the work and turn in a paper of her own. She would not be allowed to get an ‘A’ on the paper because she missed the initial deadline, but the grade would be fair and reflect the level of work she put into the report. However, if she refused to confess to plagiarism, he would be forced to turn her into the school and would not accept the paper because it clearly wasn’t her work. Only then would she would have to suffer the consequences of her bad actions.
This is the part where I roll my eyes and then slap my forehead as I plummet from my moral high-horse, landing outside of absolute black and white, and squarely in the land of grey. Ha! I bet you thought I was going to say grace. Fooled you!
You see, what I want more than anything is to not be ‘that’ person….the one that sits proudly on my moral high horse with the rod of legalism shoved up my backside, pronouncing judgment against someone else’s life choices…
What I really want to be, is more like Jesus. You may have heard of him. He’s the guy who changed everything about philosophy and ethics and morality as it was known back then, and is known now. I want to be the gal who is confronted with a black and white situation and still choose the path of truth AND grace. I want to be able to look at every situation through the perfect eyes of Jesus…because I know who I am and what I’ve done. No surprise here, but my life was a mess at one time, and when I reflect on it I see that I, too, have made bad choices, messed up, and hurt others out of selfishness, desperation, and fear; and yet, I have been shown grace and truth time and time and time again. I’ve been given second, and third, and umpteen-thousand chances to do the right thing, make the right choices, and be a better person than I was yesterday. Some days I get it right, and other days….well, I’m lucky to still have friends, family, or a husband that loves me when I go to bed at night. And we’re all like that.
We all have days when we make decisions that, upon reflection we wish we’d done things differently. Frequently, when things have gone pear-shaped, we shake our heads and thoughtfully posit, “What would Jesus have done?” Me, I want to find a place where my first response is, “What would Jesus do?”, and then I want to act like he did. I want to treat people with respect, dignity, and be the kind of girl who is known for offering second, third, and bazillion chances to people. I want to lay aside my pride and really care about people and what they’re going through. I want to get better at understanding people rather than just passing moral judgments against them when I believe they’ve broken the rules. Yeah, I want to be that girl. Some might call her a naïve, gullible, even foolish; but hey, that’s okay. People in Jesus’ day thought those same things about him, and he ended up changing everything.