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.