All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
– Edmund Burke
Earlier this week the NCAA imposed severe punitive sanctions against Penn State and their football program in response to the child sex abuse scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky. With the rest of the country, I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions over the past eight months as Sandusky’s despicable acts and the inexcusable negligence of the university’s leaders has come to light. As a student of leadership, it’s the latter that bewilders me most.
There’s one question I can’t get out of my head: What happened that allowed seemingly good, moral people to make such bad, immoral decisions? NCAA president Mark Emmert did a fantastic job of answering that question in an interview with ESPN‘s Bob Ley:
You can watch the full interview here.
I couldn’t agree more with Emmert. Somewhere along the way, the Penn State leaders—including their beloved Joe Paterno—lost sight of their core values. Whatever distracted them—be it personal relationships, distorted priorities, confirmation bias, whatever—blinded them to their moral obligations in the moment.
However, if our reflection ends there, then we are nothing more than Monday Morning Quarterbacks. What is blinding us to our current moral obligations? We must challenge ourselves with deeper, more personal questions to find out :
- Do I truly know what my core values are?
- What “good things” have the best chance of subverting my core values?
- When was the last time I had to make a tough choice? If it’s been a while, why?
- Where might I be inadvertently compromising my values right now?
- Whom have I asked to hold me accountable on moral matters?