Honor Code

Write about an experience in which you encountered a tension between personal freedom and community standards. Discuss the experience and the underlying issues, how you dealt with the tension, and whether or not there was a satisfactory resolution.

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” – Harold MacMillan

Scuba diving is a special activity – physically demanding yet acutely spiritual. It has its own code of honour that all divers must comply with. It is an incredibly risky sport – in the scuba world not much is your on your side except for your oxygen regulator and mask. There are many things that can go wrong, and hence the diving code. This is how it works: The dive instructor leads the group, closely followed by the dive group leader and then the rest of the dive group.

The dive group leader is usually an acutely aware diver and is supposed to keep an eye out for the rest of the group. After a few tryouts, I was elected dive group leader. Once, we were diving in the turquoise waters at Pirates Bay, a dive spot renowned for its abundant and magnificent marine life. The dive plan was as follows: We were to fin down into the shallows of the coral structure and swim through it to the other side, and then spend the next twenty minutes exploring the reef. As group leader, I performed the usual safety checks to ensure that there were no oxygen leakages underwater, and we set off without any hiccups.

Our dive instructor started finning downwards. I was close at his heels, with the rest of the group behind me. A few minutes into the dive, I glanced behind to find that Sara, my twin sister and dive buddy, had meandered and broken away from the group. She had spotted a rare “Sweetlips Harlequin” and seemed determined to capture a photograph. According to diving etiquette, she was not allowed to leave the group even in the most extreme conditions, yet she’d done just that. I quickly signaled to the group to carry on behind the dive instructor, and I circled back and finned furiously, only to find Sara lingering behind to admire a school of Harlequins. I stared in awe as the beautiful fish approached us, empathizing with her for a moment. 

I had never seen a Harlequin myself. I felt myself succumbing to their aura. A couple of minutes later and Sara would have her photographs. The rest of the group would hardly notice our absence and we could easily slip back into formation and the instructor might never know. It was a poignant moment. Should I just let her get on with it or should I crack the whip? As group leader, I wouldn’t  be justified in violating the trust instilled in me if I disobeyed instructions, no matter how safe or exceptional the circumstances. It was only a momentary lapse, but I had wavered. I very quickly decided that fundamentally, it wasn’t even my choice. How could I be the one to decide whether to enforce the code? The code was already in place, wasn’t it? It would have been a gross and possibly dangerous negligence of duty to ignore it. There was a responsibility that I had been entrusted with, and I was determined to fulfill it.I tapped Sara on the shoulder and indicated that we had to move back towards the group. She protested initially, but she could see I was resolute. So she gave in and  finned back rather reluctantly to rejoin the group. As we swam towards the triangle of light that marked the end of the coral reef and our dive, I spotted the instructor with a stern look on his face. He jerked his thumb towards the surface and we warily followed him there.

Once we had surfaced, he demanded an explanation. I told him what had just transpired, and he sternly admonished Sara for breaking the code and putting herself and the group in potential jeopardy. I was praised for exercising good judgement. Yet, I felt slightly downcast. I had denied my sister, an avid photographer, the opportunity to photograph the elusive Harlequin.

Disappointed for my twin, I was nevertheless convinced that I had made the right decision. Sara forgave me, of course. Every time we talked of the lost photographic opportunity, our wistfulness was assuaged by a strong sense of righteousness. Over time, that epiphany has become the shining beacon that has guided me to make the right choices for myself and each of the communities that I become a part of.

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