Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Strangest Moral Dilemma of My Adolescence

Indiana is a weird state. Among its many strange laws is that you cannot get a driver’s license at 16. No, you must be sixteen years old… and one month. I am not making this up. To be fair, I grew at least 3 pubes during that month, so clearly I matured a lot in that time.

When I finally hit that magic date of one exact month after my birthday (fuck you to people born in February, only waiting 28 days…), my mom drove me to the DMV to take the tests, first the written, then the driving portion.

As I sat down to take the written test, I approached it like I approach all written tests: with the confidence that for some reason, I always come out looking really smart when knowledge is being measures via which circles I color in. I always do well on standardized tests; I was really just dreading the driving portion.

The test came in a manila filing folder, the kind that are nothing but a thick-gauge paper folded in half with tabs on top. I remember thinking the desks were rather small, and I had two pencils I brought from home in my pocket, just in case. There were something like 40 questions, most of them I felt very confident on. I skipped the ones I had to think about and came back to them at the end, and I felt good about my guesses on those, as well.

Then a strange thing happened. I flipped over the last page… and there was a transparency with an outline of the answer sheet… with certain answers filled in… an answer key.

I’m sure I was so daft then that I probably opened my eyes wide and started looking around. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did that now… I’m so rarely in a situation where I need to be crafty, so I’m really out of practice. But, of course, it’s the DMV, so no one is alert enough to notice, or care.

What to do… fuck that, of course I checked my answers. What am I, stupid? I couldn’t be held accountable for what is included in the materials given to me. Even if I was caught, I could just feign ignorance. Is it even cheating if it is handed to you on a silver platter?

Yes, yes it is.

I checked my answers, and I got one wrong. It was some question about the stopping distance of a multi-ton semi-truck going X mph. I had guessed the longest distance listed, but it turned out to be the second longest. I decided to leave it, that way if they realize I had the answer key, they might see that I got one wrong, none of my answers were erased/changed, and that I might not have even known.

Yet, I know this: if I had gotten more wrong than I was allowed to get in order to pass, you better believe I would have changed my answers. I think you were allowed 2-4 wrong answers, I don’t really remember. I just knew I had passed, and I had nothing to gain by getting a perfect score. I could lie to the grader, but I would always know I got that one wrong.

I passed the driving portion, too, which was ridiculously easy compared to the driving exam at the driving school I went to. But to this day, I remember my experience with taking the written test more than anything about getting my license. It’s strange, really. By virtue of being a good test taker, I was spared of making a (bigger) moral error I know I would have otherwise made if I wasn’t such a proficient test taker. I wanted to be able to drive more than anything, and I have no doubt I would have done anything to be able to.

I have taken away this message from the whole incident: it is easy to make moral decisions in the face of success.

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