Sunday, September 10, 2006


A letter from Louise Hernandez of Yorba Linda, Calif., reminds me that personal stories can bring to life the ways that most of us deal with day-to-day ethical choices.

Hernandez sent me a copy of the winning essay in her Rotary Club district's annual ethics-essay contest for high-school students. The winner, Eunice Kwon of Pasadena High School, wrote about how she and several of her friends who were "the smart kids" at school had lapsed into a culture of cheating.

"I came into high school strong, proud and ready to take on the new challenges that I faced," she wrote. "By my third year I was weak, desperate and ready to do whatever it took to keep myself ahead. I cheated."

Kwon didn't feel too bad about it at first.

"After all, there was maybe one person in all of my AP classes who never openly cheated," she explained. "The rest of my friends quite candidly copied homework from each other and shared test questions on a daily basis."

Kwon and her friends are not alone. The Josephson Institute's Survey of American Youth found that 62 percent of high-school students surveyed said that they had cheated on a test and 83 percent had copied someone else's homework. Sadly, Kwon recognized that she and her friends "were the future leaders of America and we were the biggest cheaters in school."

But then something happened that forced Kwon to recognize that what she was doing was wrong. A friend called to tell her that he had found the password to a teacher's online grading book and that he could easily change their grades.

"He was excited," Kwon wrote. "I felt like throwing up."

The suggestion shocked her. Copying homework was one thing, hacking into a teacher's computer was quite another.

"It jolted my common sense," she wrote, "and woke me up from the nightmare I was living." She realized that her previous offenses, "no matter how petty, were all forms of cheating."

Kwon's essay can be found at and the Josephson Institute's findings are at

It took a specific incident to shake Kwon into acknowledging that, regardless of the degree, cheating is wrong. But she is not the only one who has had to decide the right thing to do in a difficult situation.

So now it's your turn to tell me what kinds of ethical dilemmas nag at you. Draw them from any aspect of your life -- work, romance, family, community -- in which you find them.

Provide as much detail as possible, but keep your submission to no more than 300 words. I'll run some of these stories in an upcoming column. Those whose stories are used in that column will receive a copy of my book, "The Right Thing" (Smith Kerr, 2006).

Include your name, address and telephone number, and submit your story by Oct. 10 to: or The Right Thing, The New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I recently saw your article on cheating and I tried to contact
Eunice Kwon but couldn't find her email address. Could you please
forward this to her if possible?

The idea of righteous activity comes from the observation that if you are not true to your word, you can't be trusted.

Trust, then is a powerful invisible force that can be felt
when a righteous action has taken place.

Is it ethical to cheat? To receive, to lie, then steal and
go deeper into distruction?

In Buddhaism it is said there is a cosmic law based on Zhen, Shan, Ren (truth, compassion, tolerance).

Where is the truth in cheating? Once again in Buddhism, it
is said that one cannot gain unless he loses. A righteous observer would say that the cheater has lost because he has shown the test giver that he took the incorrect way to get the right answer.

Although the cheater has the right answer, the way to get it was a violation of the righteous way. The cheater lost an important aspect of his character -- his virtue. That invisible quality, like trust that builds character. And what of the virtue?

There is a cultivation method that has been circulating for some time around the world that came from mainland China. A form of Eastern thought that explains the truth in everything and in the simplist terms.

Falun Gong or Falun Dafa explains (from my understanding) that when a person loses virtue, the virtue doesn't disappear -- it is transferred to the loser -- the one who was made to suffer, lose
face, be disgraced.

And not only has the cheater gained underhandedly, he has
also created a debt that has to be repaid. And the repayment may
come in many ways -- sickness, financial setbacks, discord, and may even affect family menbers. Eventually a very unhappy life.

The cheater lost virtue and gained sickness and discord.

Falun Gong shows the way back; it is a combination of the Buddhist school and the Tao. In Buddhism, it is said that a person's life is not meant to stay here on earth, but to return to one's origin. Mr Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong says that he is the only person in the world who is teaching us sentient beings how to get back to our orgins -- in this life. And he cares so much about us, that he doesn't charge for his knowledge.

I urge you to check it out through many web sites:,

Regards Tom Brough