While teaching years ago, I had an interesting exchange with a group of students in my sophomore English class. They were working together on a project, and I overheard one of them say, “Did you see how Mr. So-and-So (another teacher) left the room during our test? He deserves for us to cheat.”
This totally caught my ear, and I inserted myself in their conversation. “What do you mean he deserves for you to cheat?” and the girl replied, “Hey, if he’s going to leave the room and basically invite us to cheat on the test, then I’m going to take him up on it! He deserves it for being so stupid.”
This, of course, did not sit well with me. “So any teacher that doesn’t keep watch over you like a hawk is stupid and basically giving you the right to cheat?” The students chimed in in agreement.
I asked them if they considered themselves to be honorable people, and they all kind of looked at each other like I was speaking Cantonese. I rephrased my question: “How do you know you have honor if you never get the chance to be honorable?” I explained that if they are always treated as untrustworthy and ready to do the wrong thing, they would never learn whether or not if—left solely up to them—they would do the right thing.
We talked some more about it, but ultimately I did not change their minds—at least no one let on that I might have. As far as they were concerned, it was the teacher’s responsibility to make sure they did not cheat—not theirs.
External factors, not internal ones, decided their behavior. It was one of those days as a teacher that put a ding in my armor of hope.
I’m a worrier. It’s in my DNA, unfortunately, though I desperately try to let it go as I know I should. But I just find too many things to worry about, and one of them is the state of honor in our world.
How we behave when “no one is looking” is taking new paths with our growing technological world. And, sadly, as far as I see it, too many of those paths are scary and mean—and sometimes terribly destructive.
As I’ve written before, the way people feel entitled to make hurtful, nasty comments online really hurts my heart. It seems that the ability to write anything you want with little recourse has emboldened an awful lot of people to say an awful lot of awful.
Recently in the news there’s been coverage on an app called Yik Yak that allows people to post completely anonymously, and it has become so brutal that schools are asking the developers to block it in the radius of all schools.
Certainly we have had bullies and jerks since the dawn of time, and many a bathroom wall has been scrawled with malicious comments, but with the ability to reach entire schools and beyond with the touch of a “send,” the ability to be scathingly cruel is reaching new—and powerful—lows.
When did this become the norm? It’s not okay that our world is increasingly more tolerant of snipe and snark.
Even sites like Yelp have created a culture of the haughty know-it-alls who are ready to rip any business they feel “deserves” it. Don’t get me wrong—I believe in the concept of community reviews—but there is a way to go about it that shares your opinion without trying to take down whatever business is in your sites.
Would these “reviewers” say this to the business owner in person?
Personally, I think that’s a pretty good gauge about whether or not most comments should be made. If you’re not willing to say it right to the person’s face, then don’t blast it for everyone else in the world to take in. People’s livelihoods are at stake, and while it might feed someone’s ego to make snipey comments about the meal they had at a local restaurant or customer service they received at the dry cleaners, I ask that we keep honor in mind as we make those comments.
I’m not saying we need to only leave positive reviews or comments. I have let several companies know when I have been unhappy with their service or products. (For instance, there was the time I told the hotel rep directly that our stay was really poor and they told me to take it up with corporate, and when I did, corporate’s remedy was to give me 30% off of my next stay at the very hotel I was complaining about. Sigh.)
But we can be more honorable, can’t we? Can’t we comment as though there is an actual human being on the receiving end of our words….because…there is.
Anonymity shouldn’t breed cruelty. It shouldn’t be a shield behind which we can throw stones to hurt others. It shouldn’t be a way to “get even” in a world where there’s already plenty of hurt to go around.
I can’t see how being able to get away with things—be it cheating on a test or making mean-spirited comments—makes anyone walk taller or feel better about themselves. But honor sure does.
There’s a wonderful quote from To Kill a Mockingbird about the character Atticus Finch from his neighbor Miss Maudie. She says he’s “the same in his house as he is on the public streets.” A high compliment on the value of being true to yourself and acting honorably.
As far as I’m concerned, I think the world needs a LOT more Atticus Finches.