On Honour

I’ve got a colleague at COB who gives his students questions like the following at the beginning of every semester and asks the class to discuss the answers together:

1. You find a wallet on the ground. In it are a BEC bill for $80 and four twenty dollar bills. What do you do?
2. You just came home from a long day at work and you are starving. Nothing is open, and you are far too tired to cook. You find that your brother has cooked dinner, and you ask him to give you some. He agrees, but says that he wants you to give him your share of your inheritance in return. What do you do?
3. You are a bright young person from a poor Family Island home. You want to go to university but you can’t afford it. One day you meet a man who invites you to make delivery of a consignment of drugs, and promises you enough money to put you through the first two years of college. What do you do?
4. You have been accused of a crime you have not committed, and for which you will be put to death. So far, you have protested your innocence, but no one will believe you. Finally you are told that if you confess your life will be spared, and, even better, if you name your accomplices, you could be set free. You have no accomplices. What do you do?

At first glance, it would seem as though these questions are tests of people’s honesty. They are, but they also reveal something even more fundamental: the idea of honour, of what an individual stands for. This is an idea that appears to be hopelessly out of date, but it crops up again and again, especially among people who work with the delinquent, the battered, the troubled, the addicted. These professionals call it self-esteem, and suggest it’s as rare a commodity as pink pearls in conch shells.


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