Thursday, March 10, 2016

Talent Always Trumps Character . . . Or Does It?

This comment, or one similar, is mentioned quite a bit today, especially when people are talking about professional or collegiate athletics.  Maybe high school to an extent as well.  It is a cynical statement because we as Americans like to believe that the good guy is going to win in the end.  We want to believe that good triumphs over evil and that following the rules pays dividends in the end.  Do the right thing!  Even in our history we focus on individuals who do great things and consider them to be great people — for example, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. — yet we have whitewashed or ignored character flaws, which each of those two gentlemen certainly had.  So what’s the message, and is it changing?

They say that love is blind, but it would appear that our pursuit of wealth, wins, and success has also become blind.  Recent polls of high school and college students show that a majority do not believe it is wrong to cheat.  From a University of Nebraska study a few years back, Professor Kenneth Kierwra shared that "Students generally understand what constitutes cheating, but they do it anyway.  They cheat on tests, homework assignments and when writing reports. In some cases, though, students simply don't grasp that some dishonest acts are cheating.”  Students know that cheating is wrong, yet they still do it.  So it would appear that there is great acceptance of this behavior, and when it comes to character, it is a flaw that some are willing to overlook.

What is happening is that when people overlook these flaws, or other character flaws, the results often are not what one would hope.  There is an old saying that people eventually get what they deserve, and those that bend and break rules, or continue to exhibit poor character will “get what’s coming to them.”  Yet in that quest for the gold ring, people continue to look past them.  Professional and college teams seem to consistently make bad decisions on players when the signs are right there.  Aaron Hernandez is a prime example.  Both the University of Florida and the New England Patriots were so enamored of his athletic skills that they were blinded and in the case of the Patriots, paid him millions of dollars to play football.  And we all know what happened with Hernandez, yet there is so much money in professional football that he has just become a footnote to the Patriots history, overshadowed by their recent Super Bowl victory.

It isn’t just the world of sports or business where character seems to have taken a backseat to getting what people want. How many people have stories about the sacrifices that individuals and families have made for a child to go to college.  I recently heard the story of an individual who received little financial aid to attend a small liberal arts college in Iowa and worked 40-hours a week as a restaurant manager in addition to being a full-time student.  There was a time when parents would pick up second jobs to pay college costs, and also to pay off the debt for loans.  Now, we have people encouraging college students to default on their loans rather than pay them back, contributing to a college loan crisis that has created all kinds of concern for future generations of college students.  

Wall Street scandals and corporate corruption exposed in recent years are other examples where making money has trumped good character.  It is interesting that in our country we will throw a young man in prison for five or six years for selling a couple hundred dollars worth of dope, yet white collar criminals in charge of banks and pharmaceutical companies that have stolen millions and even caused deaths seem untouchable and are able to maintain “their good name."

So the question becomes, do we currently live in an America where winning is more important that doing it the right way?  Do we live in a country where getting what you want is more important than being a good person?  Complicating matters is that we have people that are defining right and wrong in a much more black and white manner, and insisting that if others don’t agree with them, then they are definitively wrong.  Politics is awash with this today, and our country has not been as split as it is today since the Civil War in terms of many of our fundamental beliefs.  There is also tremendous hypocrisy as many politicians and “celebrities” have a public forum to discuss what they believe all the “evils” are, yet they aren’t living lives of character themselves, such as recently “exposed” Congressman Kevin McCarthy and television character Josh Duggar.  

Having good character is tough, and in this day and age everyone is watching.  People are not without their flaws, and yet that isn’t to say it is impossible to overcome them.  What we need to realize is that there is a gamble when it comes to working with people who have character flaws.  There is a risk, and people, businesses, and organizations have to measure the reward and benefit from taking a risk.  At times one has to ask whether the reward outweighs the risk today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Investing In Our Kids

On July 14, 2014, President Obama tweeted "If we make investments early in our children, we will reduce the need to incarcerate those kids."  I immediately re-tweeted, “Truer words have never been spoken.”  I am still very much a novice tweeter, and I have been somewhat selective as to what I re-tweet as it appears some folks just re-tweet about everything they receive.  I re-tweet things I agree with, or that I think are funny or provocative.  This tweet from the POTUS is not original.  We have heard this said by many people many times before, but at this point in time I truly wonder whether or not it is a common belief.  One would think so, but when one looks around at the current state of affairs in this country, I am concerned.

It seems that investing in our children has become a political football.  In order to appease political supporters and special interest groups, elected officials have continued to cut funding to education throughout the country.  In Iowa, education spending does make up a very large part of the budget, yet legislators are getting away with breaking the law by not allocating funds when they are supposed to, and the Governor gives lip-service to supporting education, but is cherry-picking programs that he values.  There are similar — and worse — stories in other states.  As I write this, Congress is supposedly working to reauthorize the federal bill for education . . . eight years after it was to have been reauthorized.  These examples kind of paint a clear picture where children rank as a national priority.  Note: Congress did reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act in late 2015, eight years after it was due to be reauthorized.

I question whether the generation of parents raising younger kids today are truly investing in raising those kids so that they can be strong, independent contributors to a society.  Half the kids in this country don’t have two parents with them in the house where they reside, with many having absolutely no relationship with the man responsible for them being here.  There are also kids that have two parents in the house they live in, but one wonders how committed the parents are to raising the kids.  This investment is just as important, if not more so, than financial investment.  You don’t need a lot of money to teach children values and morals, or show them love and affection.  There are myriad of troubling statistics about the breakdown of the traditional American family.  The cost is a couple of generations of young people that many are very concerned about.

One aspect of our society that seems to be investing in our children is business and marketing, and I question how healthy that is.  Advertisers and manufacturers have discovered how profitable a market young people are, and thus we have children and young people who have have become quite materialistic.  This has come with a number of related issues where children have been exploited.

The health of a nation is best measure by how it treats its children.  In my opinion it is time for our nation to have a check-up because what I see is an unhealthy environment for a lot of our kids.  We need to pay attention to what President Obama tweeted and it is time for all of us to invest in our nation’s youth.  Otherwise, we will need to invest in our prison system, which is a very expensive alternative.