Penn State: The Deeper Lesson for America

Founder Joseph W. Gauld

When I was a kid, the hero always pursued the truth and did the right thing, like Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which he plays a youthful Senator Smith whose determination defeats powerful political corruption in the Senate.

The same drama is essentially being played out at Penn State, as it has over the years in other institutions, in different forms of corruption. But there is a change: whereas Senator Smith was an obvious hero, it took several years for the Penn State whistle blower to emerge.  The police say he didn’t report what he saw to them and he has received some death threats. It now appears it will take major investigations to clean up the corruption.

If Penn State had used the 1939 morality—pursue the truth; do the right thing—it seems the situation could have been resolved some years ago. But some of its members confused this morality with pride, coupled with loyalty to friends, associates and their institution. It is depressing to realize this is a Mafia kind of morality reflected in criminals (e.g.: “I don’t rat on my buddies.”)

We all recognize those at Penn State who did not immediately report possible sexual abuse of children were blatantly wrong. But it is also probably true that we as Americans ourselves belong to organizations where the same pride and loyalty issues can make it difficult to deal with the truth and do the right thing.

As such, as repugnant as the situation is to us at Penn State, we know there are few of us in a position to cast the first stone. Loyalty is an important value to honor with our friends, associates and institutions, and we want to take pride in what we accomplish; however, we should know these values must never interfere with the truth and doing the right thing.

So we must ask ourselves, why in our society is sexual abuse and wrong doing so hard to report in our organizations that we need a law to encourage and protect whistle blowers? Isn’t that a clear statement that we cannot trust our institutions and organizations to deal with the truth and do the right thing?

I don’t accept the premise that power corrupts; there is too much good accomplished by leaders and institutions. But there are leaders whose character wasn’t developed well enough to lead by conscience, and their leadership can corrupt the institutions they lead.

Our educational system should share the blame for this. The heavy and continual emphasis on achievement is designed to appeal to the student’s ego, offering very few opportunities that would challenge and recognize the student’s conscience. The fact that cheating and bullying have become an integral part of American schools speaks to this system’s priorities. It tends to turn out leaders who lead from ego, not conscience.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall. What happened at Penn State could happen to any institution where leaders put their own values like achievement and loyalty above the truth and doing the right thing.

We are here for some purpose on this earth, and while we may not know what it is, we at least are capable of the intelligence and humility to recognize that truth and doing the right thing are powers beyond our own.

I started this as an op-ed piece to deal with my concerns about the Penn State situation and the fact that the country was pointing the finger without looking at itself. But at this point in my writing, I realize this article really should go to the Hyde community, particularly at Thanksgiving.

We should all give thanks that we are part of a community united in a purpose to develop the unique potential of the individual (I’m told this is the theme of Oprah’s new show) which is Hyde’s Destiny principle. We are also guided by the principles of:

  • Humility that puts a check on our egos;
  • Conscience that demands the right thing,
  • Truth that seeks the right thing,
  • Brother’s Keeper that seeks the best in each other.

So I hope you share my confidence and serenity of knowing that whatever happens at Hyde, it will always be what Hyde believes is the truth and the right thing.