You win. Someone else loses.
It's scholarship time in the Knitternall home, and each application has become a moral dilemma for our graduating senior.
"Why do you deserve this scholarship?" He looks at that question and thinks, "yeah, why do I?" Why is he more worthy than every other graduating senior who needs the money?
Our son does not have a competitive nature. He doesn't try to edge out everyone around him in pursuit of a shared objective. Instead, he worries that someone might want/need something more than he does.
In particular, the Crohn's scholarship has been a difficult one for him. "Everybody who has Crohn's deserves a scholarship," he said. "If I get it, that means someone else doesn't. And they may have worse symptoms, or their parents may not have health insurance, or they could be homeless."
We reminded him that scholarship committees see all of the applicants and their personal situations, then decide who gets how much. "It's a kind of gamesmanship - you're playing to the audience. The selection of the recipients is out of your hands." But that doesn't help. He worries, to the point that he doesn't want to apply at all. So I told him the scholarship is as much for us as him ... scholarship money is much needed in a family where medical expenses are overwhelming.
Our debate led to own moral dilemma. Why should our son be burdened by the financial cost of his disease in addition to the physical and emotional challenges he will take with him to college? Who is the beneficiary of these scholarships - our son or us? Do we ask him to be someone he isn't? And does that mean we're pushing him into ethical gray areas for our own financial benefit?
Well, yes we are. Scholarships specifically benefit the individual paying for college, whether a self-funding student like I was or the family trying to squeeze tuition out of a carefully mapped budget that unexpectedly has to include medical expenditures.
After an evening of internal debate, I told our son to be true to himself. But that we would appreciate it if he would at least find a way to ask for the scholarship without crossing his moral standards.
Yesterday, our son wrote his personal essay for the Crohn's scholarship, in his own way. He wrote that he doesn't deserve the scholarship any more than any other graduating senior. He said good grades, a full plate of extracurricular and volunteer work, and good character don't differentiate him from most of the other applicants. And he wished all the families paying for Crohn's care could benefit because all of them, including his own parents, needed the help.
He didn't pontificate, exaggerate his accomplishments, brag about his honors, or try to make himself stand out in any way.
His essay likely won't result in winning the scholarship.
But he made me feel very humble ... and proud.