IT was mid-evening. I needed to get home from London and was feeling pressed for time. A train was about to leave, and there wasn't time to go to the main ticket office before boarding. Hoping I could buy a ticket on the train, I ran onto the platform and found the guard. But he told me they weren't allowed to sell tickets on the train at that time of night.
``People don't normally check the tickets at this time, though,'' he said, looking sideways, which I took to mean that I would probably get away with not buying a ticket. But I told him I couldn't get on unless I knew I would be able to pay for a ticket. I stood and watched the train pull out of the station.
It wasn't the thought of a hefty fine that stopped me; it was something else. I had just been having a deep conversation with someone on the subject of cheating in school tests. What did one do in an environment where it was easy for people to copy each other's work? Apparently ``everybody did it'' (and got away with it), and the teachers didn't seem to be providing an atmosphere where honesty in these matters was the norm. If students hid their work from their friends, they were thought to be weird and antisocial.
Our conversation had reminded me of an incident I knew of that happened many years ago. A girl who had not done her own homework adequately sent a note to a friend during an exam, asking her to explain one of the questions. Her friend unwisely sent the note back with some helpful comments, and the teacher spotted this going on. Both girls were strongly disciplined. It was also explained that in a public examination, their entire set of exam results would have been canceled.
The girl who had unwisely ``helped'' her friend was later asked, Who had the greater responsibility in this incident? At first she reckoned they were both equally responsible. But on further thought she began to realize that she had had strong moral training in her life--she had studied Christ Jesus' teachings in the Bible and had seen how important it is to, as Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, ``provide things honest in the sight of all men'' (12:17). She knew cheating was wrong, and with this came the responsibility to act in the way she knew was right. What's more, she began to see, individual moral responsibility isn't a burden; it is freedom! Its purpose isn't just to keep one person out of trouble; it is to strengthen the whole fabric of thought in a family, a school, a country, so that the fabric won't tear under stress. What one person did mattered, and helped, and was worth the momentary inner struggle it might require.
These young people were thinking through, perhaps for the first time, the choice between loyalty to person and loyalty to principle. What was beginning to become real for at least one of them was the understanding that it wasn't just a ``personal principle'' they had to be guided by, but divine Principle, which is God, divine Love. Because divine Principle is divine Love, it cares equally for everyone involved. Not returning the note, for example, would have cared for both girls, including the one who had not yet understood that it was wrong to send the note.
Love of honesty is something that goes hand in hand with loving God. As Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of the Christian Science Church, puts it in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help'' (p. 453).
Honest actions aren't taken to impress others but to express God. They originate from individual choices made in our own hearts. And sometimes we're the only person to know about them! I was so glad I'd missed the earlier train home--because I wouldn't have missed this train of thought for anything!