An Alternative to Scandals

by Martin Poehler

Scandal! We hear the word routinely on radio and television, and see it in the newspaper headlines. It seems as if every day there is at least one new scandal.

Enron

In the business world, the energy company giant Enron used crooked accounting practices to conceal a corrupt financial situation. Its directors publicly said the company was sound and thriving, even while they peddled huge numbers of shares of their own Enron stock. Anderson, Enron’s auditor, certified Enron’s books as valid while it shredded documents to cover up the truth. Then Enron went bankrupt.

Worldcom

Worldcom, America’s second largest telecom service provider, incurred normal expenses, but recorded them as investment. They did this to try to keep their stock price high and help them get new business. Profits were overstated by $3 billion, and it too has gone bankrupt.

Merril Lynch

At Merril Lynch, the investment firm, consultants advised individual investors to buy shares they confided to colleagues were exceedingly poor buys. Merrill Lynch had huge business dealings with the corporations issuing these shares. Advising the individuals to buy these shares helped increase their value, and thus the value of Merrill Lynch’s large corporate clients. But the shares eventually went down, costing the individual investors billions of dollars. Merril Lynch was fined $180 million, and forced to separate its individual and corporate advising divisions.

The effect of these three situations was that tens of thousands lost their jobs, billions of dollars were lost by investors, and funds on which many had based their retirement hopes plummeted sharply in value.

The Olympics

In sports, at this year’s Winter Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, three medal winners tested positive for darbepoetin, a blood doping drug. These individuals were expelled from the games, and had some or all of their medals taken back. These expulsions highlight a continuing trend of some top athletes, who unfairly enhance their performances through drugs. The most infamous case of this was the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was expelled from the 1988 Olympics for a positive drugs test after winning the 100 meter dash.

Cheating on Exams

University students increasingly use the Internet to conduct research for their classes. Some students, however, do this in an unethical manner, going to websites that offer term papers for downloading. These students pass off these term papers as their own original work. The worst case of cheating detected so far was at the University of Virginia, where in May 2001, 130 students in an introductory physics course were suspected to have plagiarised their term papers over the last few semesters. After case-by-case investigations by the university, some students were cleared of the allegations, but some were expelled. Teachers have started using the Internet itself to catch plagiarists, who seem to be numerous. For example, “Turnitin.com offers a simple method that allows both teachers and students to submit papers to electronic scrutiny. The service compares the paper against millions of websites, and a database of previous submissions and papers.... Dr John M Barrie, a founder of Turnitin.com, estimated that of all the work submitted to the site, nearly one-third is copied from another source....” [www.getgoodgrades.com/latest.html ]

What is it that makes each of these a scandal? The dictionary says a scandal is a disgraceful action or event. So a scandal is an act that everyone—including the person perpetrating it—knows is wrong. So the person hides what he has done. When the action comes to light, everyone believes it is disgraceful. Looking again at the Enron, Worldcom, Olympics, and student term paper examples, it seems that people caught in scandal were cheating and breaking the rules in order to get an unfair advantage over others. These people felt they had to reach their goals. Indeed, the goal was felt so important to be attained that they convinced themselves to take a corrupt path, and receive heavy penalties if they were caught.

Why do people today engage in scandalous disgraceful behaviour? What motivates them? These people we’ve spoken of had a great desire to achieve, and passionately pursued their goals. Perhaps they did this to attain personal happiness. Or perhaps they wanted to seem important to others. Perhaps they sought security through their achievements. To one degree or another, gaining these things is what we all seek after. But we all agree the way these people sought them—by flaunting rules we all agree should be followed—is bad and wrong. What causes people to risk all—reputation, job, relationships with others, their future—to succeed?

To me it seems these people feel desperate. They feel unless they break rules we all accept, and get an unfair advantage over others, they will not reach their goals. They feel if they don’t reach their goals, they will be finished—their lives will be ruined. They know life is a struggle. But when they consider the very difficult things they attempt to achieve, they are uncertain or even doubtful they will be successful. They feel it is all or nothing—achieve their goals however they can, or be crushed as a failure. Is life truly that way? I’m nearly certain many of us would answer, “No”. Here’s why: We all can cite examples where you or I felt strongly we needed to accomplish something that was important. We felt we had to do well on an exam, or we needed to get that job that opened up that seemed made for us. But we missed our goal, and we felt we couldn’t survive physically, mentally, and emotionally. Afterwards, though we felt dejected, other favourable and unexpected circumstances came to us “out of the blue.” They changed our lives in a new way, and for the better. Events came about which benefited us greatly.

A Different Way

With this in mind, it’s interesting that in the Bible, in Luke Chapter 6 it says something very thought provoking about difficult situations. The speaker here, Jesus of Nazareth, says, “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, ....To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.... Be merciful, even as your father is merciful.” (verses 27, 29, 36) Described here are difficult situations: being near enemies, being hit by people, having people take our clothing. These may be even worse things than what you and I face in our own lives. Are we advised to do everything we can to overcome these people, even break the rules we all hold are good, and lash out at them? No—we’re told to do good things towards them, even to love them. We may react by thinking, “That would probably let them harm us even more!” Why would Jesus, considered wise by many people, advise us to do that? He seems to be trying to instil a confidence in us that “every cloud has a silver lining,” that bad situations will turn out for good.

Jesus says bad will work out for good for us, and we can act kindly towards others, because his Father will take care of us. Somehow the planet we inhabit came into being, as well as the stars and other large planets in the universe. Somehow these other planets are kept from hitting our planet. Somehow both the nourishing food, and the cotton, wool, or leather we depend on for clothing, came about and keep us alive. Somehow the birds and animals find food each day to live through that day. Somehow almost seven billion people, all different and with different desires, co-exist without destroying each other or the large planet they live upon.

The “somehow” is the one who made these seven billion people and keeps their bodies holding together. God, the father of Jesus, is maintaining order in our lives, the world, and the universe. He is working things for our good even when we don’t know it. For example, he keeps our hearts beating and our lungs breathing, even when we are sleeping and not thinking about them. He keeps us safe from numerous germs around us through the body’s immune system, which we only partly understand. He makes our brains work so that in them electrical current is turned into thought, sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, in ways we only dimly comprehend. He wisely works in relationships and our job, in just the right way to bring to us the things we need at just the right time, neither sooner nor later than we need them.

Those involved in public scandals, and even we ourselves perhaps in our own lives, can believe there is no other option but to break the rules to obtain money, fame, and success. They and we sometimes think these things will bring happiness and security. How much more fulfilled and at rest they, and we too, can be if we instead turn to the one who made us all, and sustains us daily!

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