24: The Right Thing

24: The Right Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Right Thing

Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.

~J.C. Watts

“Hey, Sharon,” I heard as I got off the school bus. “Did you get your math homework done?”

“Yup,” I said. I’d spent over an hour getting it done, and only caught the end of my favorite TV show because of it.

“We had company, my dad’s business partner.” Julie’s toe shuffled in the playground gravel. She wasn’t a friend of mine, but I’d known her since kindergarten. “Can I copy your answers?”

“I can’t....” I began.

“But I couldn’t get mine done. I’ll get a zero.”

I thought of the hot chocolate I didn’t have with my mom because of this homework. Fourth grade math was hard. It was my worst subject. I had to work hard to understand long division. Each problem took a half page in my notebook.

“You have to help me out.”

“I can’t.” I turned and walked toward the school.

“I need you!”

I kept walking. I knew if I copied someone’s answers it would be cheating. But if I let her copy mine, was that cheating too?

The first bell rang. There was Julie with her best friend. She looked at me and whispered to her.

Later, at recess, she stood in a group of girls on the playground and I heard her say, “I asked her and she said no!”

“How selfish.”

“If I was in your class, I would.”

“Me too.”

“Let’s not talk to her any more.”


“Come on Sharon, let’s teeter-totter,” said my best friend, Cindy. I ran after her and we both got on.

“Don’t like her any more Cindy,” Julie called over from her group of friends. “I asked her to help me with my math and she refused.”

Cindy looked at me for a moment with a funny look on her face, then jumped off the teeter-totter and ran after Julie.

By lunch recess, nobody would talk to me. Words like mean and selfish drifted to me from their huddled, whispered conversations.

Right after lunch was math. I’d still have time to let Julie copy my answers before the bell rang. Then my friends would play with me. People would like me again. I sat on the playground bench to consider it.

I’d had trouble learning to tell time in the second grade. Cindy and I did our homework together on the phone until I understood it. Was that cheating? Was it any worse to let Julie copy my answers? Was I being selfish just because I’d missed most of my TV show and hot chocolate with Mom? Was Julie right?

When we were back in the classroom, Julie began to copy the answers from another girl’s paper.

The teacher walked in. “Class, hand in your homework.”

Julie had run out of time. Hurriedly she passed her paper forward with the rest. I wondered if I had done the right thing or not.

That night, as I lay in bed, I realized that Cindy had helped me understand how to tell time. She didn’t give me the answers. She helped me to figure them out. I’d had to find the answers on my own. That wasn’t cheating. That wasn’t the kind of help Julie had asked for.

As the days passed, Cindy listened to my side and started to play with me again. Other kids did too.

Julie never liked me again because I had refused to cheat, but I was okay with that. I was glad I had done the right thing.

~Sharon Palmerton Grumbein

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