The Penn State Scandal: Why We Always Need to Do the Right Thing

Posted November 18, 2011 by

The infuriating events at Penn State bring me to my #1 rule of parenting, which is Do the Right Thing. Others have called what has happened at Penn State sad. I call it infuriating. It is infuriating because I am left feeling equal parts anger and frustration. The frustrating part is that the adults in charge acted, as commentator Jay Bilas said, as a conspiracy of cowards. All those who had the chance to step up and do the right thing did not. They did the easy thing, and the results of their poor decisions are there for all to see.

The great thing about doing the right thing is everyone knows what that is,  every time. Whether it is a simple decision or a tough one, we always know what the correct thing to do is, as opposed to the easy thing. For those leaders at Penn State now disgraced, it would have taken some courage and acceptance that doing the right thing was going to stir up a beehive, but it was still what needed to be done. Instead, they chose the easy thing.

The lesson is that when you Do the Right Thing, there is no choice, because making the wrong decision is always painful.


John McPherson is a leadership and management consultant in Salinas, CA. John and his wife Christina have two children, Fiona and Carson. Both John and Christina’s parents had a great influence in their upbringing, which helped them define how they would parent their children. Over the past ten years, John observed how many parenting practices have strayed from the principles he and Christina have found to be successful, and this led him to write a book on parenting, entitled "Ten Simple Rules for Being a Parent in a World Turned Upside Down".

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  1. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    I think we can all agree on the fact that in this case, if the allegations are true — that someone saw a child being raped and did not intervene and call the proper authorities — then they did not do the right thing. (And it goes without saying that anyone who abuses a child is not doing the right thing.)

    One of the few glimmers of hope in all of this is that the Penn State scandal has given other victims of child molestation around the country the courage to come forward and name their abusers. Shedding light on this problem is the only way we’ll eradicate it.

  2. c. (Edit) Report

    i think we all would be surprised at how many people know what the right thing to do is….but for some reason or another, just don’t do it. That concept alone is hard for us to admit.

  3. R (Edit) Report

    i would also like to add in that it’s easy to say “do the right thing” as well as assume that “eveyone knows exactly what that is”, but it’s very far from the truth. and i have to agree with the above post about this sounding incredibly self righteous, among other things.
    simply because you have a clear set of morals and values, it’s very wrong to assume “everyone” else is equally aware of what the “right” thing to do is. i will admit that in this specific situation, it seems to be clearly evident that someone should have spoke up about this long ago, but to say that “The great thing about doing the right thing is everyone knows what that is, every time” is just so far from the truth. if everything in life was as clear as that, there would be far less crime and suffering and whatall in the world, because everyone would be born with an innate ability to just know what to do, every time.
    the fact that not everyone in the world is blessed with a strong set of morals is a fact of life, and the core behind a lot of programs (like the one you are writing for) that has a goal of helping people to become their best, either as a parent or as a person.
    and to say that everyone should just know what the right thing is, every time is a fairly irresponsible goal to set for children, who do not have a fully formed set of moral guidelines yet. if a child (or teen, even) doesn’t know what the right thing to do in a situation is, but has been told that he should, that could cause some real turmoil of emotions in that person.

    i’m sorry, but i just have to diagree with your post when you say that it is always clear what the right thing is, to everybody, every time. if that were the case, then there would simply be a law that says “do the right thing”.

  4. John McPherson (Edit) Report

    With all due respect, Dan, while the criminal proceedings in this case need to play out, the time line of when questions regarding Sandusky began is pretty clear. I base my commentary on the same facts available to the Trustees when they dismissed the individuals involved, which is s different standard than the pending legal cases. Regardless of how the legal proceedings work out, this was a failure of leadership, and parenting more than anything is an exercise in leadership. I stand by my commentary.

  5. Dan (Edit) Report

    Hi John,
    I am a user and supporter of The Total Transformation Program. And I find Empowering Parenting to be an excellent resource for continuing improvement as a parent. I appreciate your contributions. However, in reading this particular post, I find the self righteous tone and fact-less statements to be more than slightly misaligned with your role as a father, teacher, and member of a Board of Education. while I wholeheartedly agree we need to be teaching our children to have courage to do the right thing, I believe it should be done with humility and factual information. Knowing each of the key individuals in the complicated situation at Penn State personally, the piecing together of the real facts has only just begun. When we as parents issue judgments without complete information, we model poor decision making to the ones we are trying to teach just the opposite. It’s no wonder the voice of truth cannot be heard in a culture in which image making, fabrication to fill air time 24/7 and situational distortion have almost completely replaced the truth.
    So, while I agree with your lesson of “Do The Right Thing”, may I add – Let’s “Do The Right Thing – RIGHT”.



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