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Honor Versus Friendship – A Battle for the Ages

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Our nation is transitioning toward the biggest federal government infiltration into our lives since the New Deal, as a society how did we ever return to this archaic juncture of dependency? I believe it has not been the result of the masses but rather the self-centered agendas of powerful corporate, financial, media, and political leaders; and we have certainly witnessed the destructive aftermath of their wrath of greed and power. I have wondered how an individual like a Bernie Madoff can sleep at night knowing the acquiring of his yacht and other riches were the result of destroying people’s financial lives through the use of his deceitful and dishonorable behavior. As a society, have we lost an understanding of what it means to be honorable? Honor is defined as, “personal integrity maintained without legal or other obligation.”, “nobility of mind; probity”. Let us imagine a society where all individuals and leaders maintain honor without allowing outside influence, power and greed to compromise their ability to make a decision for the greater good; a society where we all had “nobility of mind”. What an amazing world it would be.

My Alma Mater is the United States Military Academy at West Point, where I was a graduate in 1980. The Academy’s motto is “Duty, Honor, Country” with a strict honor code that states, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” This honor code is instilled in every cadet, and agreed to in writing from the moment they enter. During my sophomore year, I was dealt a personal challenge that tested friendship against adherence to the honor code. My roommate and I had the same deadline for the submission of a research paper. We were both engaged in the same course, but we each had a different professor. Although I had finished my research, I did not initiate the writing of my paper until the night before the paper was due.

Coincidently my roommate had not begun the writing of his paper either. The difference between us that night was I completed the writing of my paper that evening whereas my roommate decided to “hit the sack” without writing anything. The following morning we both, to my surprise, submitted our assignments. A week had gone by before our research papers were returned to us. Upon seeing my roommate’s graded paper on his desk, I noticed the paper I was observing looked almost identical in content, sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary to my paper. My roommate had awakened after I had gone to bed that particular evening and copied my paper.

What do I do? What would you do? I did not lie, cheat or steal, but if I do not report my roommate I am in violation of the honor code for tolerating his cheating. Do I choose my roommate, or the honor code? Would a true friend put me in this position? Could I graduate with a good conscience knowing I had violated the honor code by tolerating someone else’s violation? These are a few questions I conjured up and struggled with. I confronted him several times in an attempt to convince him to turn himself in, but to no avail. After pondering the questions and deciphering many internal deliberations, the final decision I made was to report the incident. As a result, there was a formal investigation, honor hearing, and the dismissal of my roommate from the Academy for violating the honor code. I made a commitment to abide by a code of honor that embodies an institution I decided to belong to. What would it say about me as a future leader, parent or citizen if I had violated the very code that I agreed to uphold?

I share this experience with you, so everyone reading this will entertain the idea of discussing with others, and your children, what it means to be honorable. I have no expectation that everyone would make the same decision I made, but I do have the expectation that everyone will ask themselves, “what does it mean to be honorable?” and ask yourself “am I living an honorable life?” If as a society it becomes acceptable for excuses to be made for one’s dishonorable behavior, and no need for individual accountability, there will no longer be any need to live honorably. To know thyself as a person with honor, is to be known by others as a person of honor.


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