Dad Did the Right Thing - Will His Kids?

September 16th, 2011 by The Responsibility Project

Family Gives Up $50,000 for a Chance to Tell the Truth

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The Minnesota family that won $50,000 dollars after a prize-winning hockey shot by their son Nate Smith is giving it all up. Nate, as it turns out, stepped in for his identical twin brother, Nick, and competed under the wrong name. Nick and Nate’s father, Pat Smith, didn’t feel right taking the money after, as NPR reported, “the boy who had made a lucky hockey shot wasn't the son who was supposed to have taken it.”

Pat Smith told The Today Show that coming forward was the right thing to do, and it taught his sons a valuable lesson: "They learned that honesty is always the best policy, and you can never go wrong telling the truth."

The father was attempting to impact his sons’ “moral identity,” or the ethical terms in which they’d describe themselves – honest, caring, opposed to cheating, committed to doing the right thing, etc. But some research suggests that a strong sense of moral awareness can actually prove detrimental in the face of moral challenges.

In a study reported by and originally published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers asked a group of people if they considered themselves moral, and if they would cheat on a test.

The people who said they would never cheat described themselves as very moral – no surprise. But the people who said they would indeed cheat also described themselves as very moral. Huh?

The study deduced that when a person with a strong moral identity is faced with a moral decision, they choose their fate – for good or bad – and then pursue it until the extreme end, driven by their extreme moral identity.

In other words, they justify cheating as a means to a moral end, as in this example given by one of the researchers: "If I cheat, then I’ll get into graduate school. And if I get into graduate school, then I can become a doctor. And think about all the people I’m going to help when I’m a doctor."

(A portion of this story was previously published as “A Moral Identity Crisis” on The Responsibility Project on 4/24/08)