A moral dilemma involves moral or ethical issues that have positive and negative consequences no matter the choices made. It also involves internal and external pressures to choose one way over the other.
Once upon a time in middle school, a close friend of mine was involved in a case that would have him suspended from school and risk ever being admitted to another private school. I cherished our friendship but, I also loved my education because I was a semester clear from earning an international art scholarship for young achievers. One night we were hiding in a classroom chugging beers we stole from a school guardian's house while taking out his garbage. Minutes into our second can, a janitor came into the classroom and found us laying on the floor drunk with our shoes off. He screamed at us and tried to hail a guard, we jumped him, and he was hurt pretty badly.
While we were putting our shoes back on, he got up and tried to fight us, we ran but, Chris left a boot behind. Unfortunately, all student clothing came with name tags. The next day I was called into the principal’s office and was shown the boot, the principal said he called me in because he couldn’t find Chris and was sure I knew where he was. A few minutes into the conversation, he already knew I was involved, and knew that my involvement in such a big case would render me ineligible for a scholarship because I would be suspended indefinitely. He told me that if I told him where Chris was, we would both get suspended with known records but, I would be back to school in two weeks while Chris would be gone for a very long time and may never even come back at all. That way he said, would not affect my chances even though the case would be recorded. My parents wouldn’t have to know because it would seem like a little-term break. That was a good deal seeing that he admired my academic success and I wouldn’t get in trouble. On the other hand, I knew where Chris was because I was the one who hid him when they came looking, I assured him that no one would find out and we’d just have to wait till everything blew over.
The moral dilemma in this situation was that if I told the principal what he needed to know, my parents would not have to get involved, I would still have an optimistic chance of earning the scholarship, and I would be doing right by my principal. However, Chris would hate me forever, students might not want to interact with me anymore, and I would lose all social credibility in school.
On the flip side, if I had stayed quiet about the situation, the authorities would have eventually found out about us, we would both be suspended, my parents would definitely get involved, I would lose that scholarship, and risk being admitted into any other school. However, the relationship between Chris and I would be solid, and everyone in school would respect me and see me as a real friend to be with. I would be relieved knowing that I didn’t let my friend suffer alone for a crime that we both committed.
I told the principal everything he needed to know, from the incident that happened the night before, to where Chris was hiding, and how to catch him. The principal assured me that everything would be fine because I did the right thing. He promised that the case wouldn’t affect me, my parents wouldn’t have to know what happened and what I did to resolve the issue.
According to a development study, my story is under the Pre-conventional Moral Reasoning stage. It states that "Each person tries to take care of his or her own needs, and to be nice to other people so that they will be nice in return."
I had a lot to gain by turning Chris in because we would have been caught eventually after intense investigation, and that would be worse for both of us. However, I lost a friendship with my best friend because of that decision. After I was allowed to come back to school on the second week of my suspension, the entire school had heard about what I had done to Chris. This brought a lot of stigma and persecution because I wasn't liked or given any attention from my mates or other students. I did get the one-year art scholarship after the semester ended but, I never saw Chris again.
I was always going to maintain the appearance of obedience to authority but, the overall decision was based on the assumption that my needs were more important than the friendship with Chris and stigma from other students.