Ethics: Obedience to the Unenforceable

20 Aug

Segment 1: From Syria to Penn State
What is the similarity between Syria and Penn State? Failure of moral character. Bashar al-Assad has brought dishonor to his family and country by failing to take a moral stand against the brutality of the Alawite regime. Jerry Sandusky and the late Joe Paterno brought dishonor to themselves and Penn State by engaging in flawed moral behavior. On this edition of the Doug Noll Show we explore the issue of moral character by speaking with Len Marrella, founder and President of the Center for Leadership and Ethics and author of the award-winning book, In Search of Ethics, Conversations with Men & Women of Character. Len’s website is www.lenmarrella.com.

Len was fortunate to have parents who instilled the notion of character, which he has built upon throughout his life, both in the military and within the private sector. Len found early on that it was easier to be honest and trustworthy than not, and that others are irresistibly attracted to people of character. He tells us, “In the end, our character is our destiny.”

Moral character and ethical behavior is the foundation of trust. So why is it difficult for many to make sound, trust-worthy decisions? Our moral values have been incrementally deteriorating over the last 50 years due to affluence, expectations, and entitlement. In a sense we have too much freedom. The most important freedom we posses is the one to discipline ourselves, but we are disinclined to do that.

Segment 2: The Decline in Educational System Link
Len and I both believe that there has been a decline in our educational system and that critical thinking skills are not being taught in school. Making moral decisions requires critical thinking skills. The inability to deal with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty drives people to simple decisions that are not value-based.

Regarding Penn State, when there’s so much success, money and power involved, it’s easy to get a false sense of pride that is not to be jeopardized. It’s a classic case of conflicting values: loyalty to a regime, family, or school versus moral, truthful character.

So how do we, as teachers, parents and a society, teach moral courage? Moral courage can be defined as the ability to handle adverse consequences (shunned by friends, judged by family, rejected by society) for making a moral decision. However, Len repeatedly reiterates to his students that they are going to be “happier, healthier and more successful” if they do things the right way.

Segment 3: HIs Word is His Bond
At West Point Len admits he was first motivated purely by fear, but soon learned that his word was his bond, and that was a great – and easier – way to live. He became motivated by character. When we meet people who live up to a moral code it is enlightening and inspirational. It’s about authenticity, a willingness to serve, love for your fellow man.

Segment 4: How to Heal
In order for Penn State to heal from this massive failure of moral character, they must acknowledge the wrong, be extremely humble, and have a willingness to serve. Often we can learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. We as a society are a forgiving people, and it is possible to turn this mistake into an opportunity to grow and evolve. Penn State can survive and thrive with moral leadership, restorative justice work and effective peacemaking.

Click below to listen to the full interview:

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