This post is obviously brought about by the terrible events at Penn State. If you’re not familiar with the story, a quick Google search will update you on the details. At the end of the day, the outrage at this incident is real and justified. The act in itself is heinous, but the cover-up and subsequent justification of the actions taken by the administration is reprehensible.
Defenders of Joe Paterno as well as others in the administration state that they fulfilled their legal obligation in reporting the activities to their superior. The individuals who failed to report it to the State have already stepped down. The remaining individuals cling to their defense that they did their legal obligation.
If the law is the guiding light of our society, then our morality is the guiding light of our humanity.
I believe that there are very few moral absolutes, but I think every one can agree that the sexual exploitation of children is abominable. This is the issue that we are dealing with. This is not a grey area debate, this is a clear cut issue. Using the fulfillment of a legal obligation to defend the omission of your moral obligation cannot be accepted. The use of this rationalization to better one’s own status or to avoid scrutiny is the height of cowardice. To trust these individuals with the education and upbringing at an institution of higher learning is unthinkable.
But how do we subscribe to morality, how do we create our own sense of morals?
I believe that the law is an attempt to codify society’s sense of morality. Obviously, whenever you try to capture a group mentality, you must take the general consensus. However, when we get to an individual sense of morality, I don’t believe that there is one set source. Upbringing, education, religion, friendships, among others all have an impact on our sense of morality. A sense of morality is well and good, but acting on our morality and questioning and examining our beliefs is key. I will be the first to say that I’m not a saint. I’ve made immoral decisions. But at the end of the day, I believe that I’ve made more moral decisions than immoral ones, and that makes me a moral person. Some people believe that even a single immoral act makes you an immoral person. The differences are vast, but at the end of the day, each person’s relation to their own morality is between them.
Where do we draw the limit on acting on our morality? Where does activism become vigilantism? That is a cautious line that we have to draw. In a world where the media gets our attention by focusing on polarizing issues and focuses on polarizing groups, it’s easy in get a sense of inflamed emotions. This is a question that has no clear answer. I abhor moral absolutism, but in the case of Penn State, the actions of the administrators were perhaps legally correct, but absolutely morally corrupt.
My parents have always demanded that I be a moral person. I have not always been, but I think for the most part I am. They have always told me to look myself in the mirror at day’s end, and if you can look yourself in the eye, you’ve had a good day. And I think that’s just it, it’s a sense of Honor. Living with honor means adhering to a sense of morality perhaps at the expense of your own happiness. For those involved with the Penn State scandal, using legal justification as your moral justification is a hollow argument. When the foundation of your success is built on a morally bankrupt foundation, things can very quickly come tumbling down. I would be naive to say that this is the only case. For every immoral situation come to light, there are scores more that we do not know. I don’t know the solution to the problem, but I do know that it is within our control to lead perhaps not a perfectly moral life, but a moral one.
And I know that every night, I want to be worthy of respect from the man in the mirror.