Karl G. Maeser, the first president of Brigham Young University, once said, “I have been asked what I mean by word of honor. I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first!”
President Maeser’s chalk-line story is a well-known tradition at Brigham Young University, and its message about keeping one’s word of honor is inspiring. But we might speculate about how the rest of us would respond to variations of Maeser’s hypothetical situation. Suppose we could take a step outside our chalk line and save a child from being crushed by an oncoming truck? Would we do so? If we leave the circle, we will have broken our word. Have we also been unethical?