Sunday, February 5, 2012

Depositing Regularly 

Last month I wrote about wisely investing your trust. Not to belabor the financial metaphor, but this month I want to discuss something related to investing—that is the need for making regular deposits. In November, the Penn State sexual abuse scandal blasted onto the stage, unfolding like a Shakespearean tragedy. I must qualify myself as biased. I didn’t attend Penn State but my husband, son-in-law, nephew, and numerous friends and relatives have. Currently, my youngest son is a sophomore there. During the last 32 years, I’ve visited State College numerous times and have had nothing but wonderful times there with the Penn Staters I have met. It truly has been Happy Valley for me.

While the “Penn State family” has been horrified by the child abuse that allegedly took place there, many were also saddened that Joe Paterno, who passed away on January 22, was consequently fired. During the holidays, the scandal naturally was a hot topic. A clear divide emerged about the justification for firing Paterno. Those in the “Penn State family” most frequently offered the opinion that if Joe knew something and didn’t do it, he should have been fired, but they just couldn’t imagine him not doing the right thing. Those who were not Penn States were less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Why is that?

I think the Penn Staters’ view goes beyond school loyalty—to something important--that if we were wise, we would all do. And that is to make regular deposits into your integrity account. The truth will either vindicate or indict Paterno. However, for those of us who are Penn Staters, we’ve studied Paterno, knew his deeds and have admired him not only for his success on the field but also for his integrity. He regularly made significant deposits into his integrity account. Joe Posnanski, a journalist with Sports Illustrated, moved to State College last fall to objectively study Paterno for a book he is writing about him. Posnanski wrote this blog in November that helps to explain the feelings of Penn Staters:

I have thought about Joe Paterno, his strengths, his flaws, his triumphs, his failures, his core, pretty much nonstop for months now. I have talked to hundreds of people about him in all walks of life. I have read 25 or 30 books about him, countless articles. I’m not saying I know Joe Paterno. I’m saying I know a whole lot about him. And what I know is complicated. But, beyond complications — and I really believe this with all my heart — there’s this, and this is exclusively my opinion: Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life. 

He has improved the lives of countless people. I know — I’ve talked to hundreds of them. Almost every day I walk by the library that he and his wife, Sue, built. I walk by the religious center that tries to bring people together, and his name is on the list of major donors. I hear the stories, the countless stories, of the kindnesses that came naturally to him, of the way he stuck with people in their worst moments, of the belief he had that everybody could do a little bit better — as a football player, as a student, as a human being. I’m not going to tell you these stories now, because you can’t hear them. Nobody can hear them in the howling.

Clearly, Paterno has made countless deposits into his integrity account. What about you and me? Do we have a healthy integrity account? If someone were to accuse you of a misdeed, would you have enough good will in reserve to preserve your reputation and provoke people to say, “They would never do that!” I hope I do.

I tried to recall if there had ever been a time when I was accused of something and what had happened. While this may seem inconsequential to you, to me it was important—it must have been; this interlude happened more than 30 years ago.

During the last week of my senior year of high school at Saint Benedict Academy in 1978, we girls were suffering with spring fever and severe senioritis. Undoubtedly, this led to the students becoming a bit rowdy as we neared graduation. One afternoon during the change of classes, things got very loud as only a hallway packed with 250 teenage girls could get. Someone was wailing, and our principal, Sr. Kathleen, thought I was the one responsible. “Janice,” she scolded, “settle down and stop screaming.” Not one to be assertive, I uncharacteristically defended myself. “It wasn’t me, Sister,” I said. “I wasn’t screaming.” (Truly, I wasn’t.) She looked dubiously at me while I headed off to class.

What happened next left a deep impression on me. Later that afternoon, as I was sitting at my lunch table, Sister Kathleen came to me. “I want to apologize for reprimanding you before,” she said. “If you say, you weren’t screaming, I believe you.”

I took Trigonomety and Calculus in senior year, and if pressed today, I could not remember how to solve a Trig problem for the life of me, but her trusting my integrity I remember. My admiration of her for having the humility and forthrightness to come to me not only greatly increased but this experience also taught me the value of regularly making deposits into your integrity account.

Six months ago, would you have dreamed Paterno would die under these circumstances? Who knows what you or I may some day face? Build up your integrity account now with good deeds and exemplary behavior; you never know when there may be a run on your bank.

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