Does it not seem that the national pastime is no longer baseball, patriotism, or even mom, apple pie or Chevrolet? Rather it seems the current sport du jour is “gaming the system.” Yes, getting around the laws, regulations and protocols is the popular play. Those “third rails” of bad behavior where you don’t survive the digression seem to no longer to exist. Really, is anything nonnegotiable no matter how egregious? The way to their extinction is paved with the short memories or ADD of the populous.
In my hometown of Chicago, where I was born and raised, a Hollywood actor perpetrates a hoax that gives our city yet another black eye, but in this case undeserved. It wasn’t a very strategic hoax or even intellectually based. A Subway sandwich at 2:30 a.m. in below-zero weather, walking purportedly back home via a darkened underpass in a route not between the Subway and his residence is an unlikely setting for even a fiction novel, let alone, a staged criminal assault. Yet this script was all inclusive: physical attack , racism , homophobic , political hot button . Concerning the latter where the alleged perpetrators yelled out “MAGA” (Make America Great Again), simple research would demonstrate that while there may be some Trump supporters in Chicago, there are NO Trump supporters in that particular neighborhood. ☺
The States Attorney immediately recuses herself and then, invoking her own interpretation of law, unrecuses herself in the eleventh hour to drop all charges of a sixteen-count indictment. Incredulous! But as with everything, this too will fade to the back pages and soon thereafter be forgotten history.
With that foundation, I turn to the current headlines of the privileged paying for their equally privileged children to attend a prestigious school that they would not otherwise qualify for admission. The amount of money and the degree of deception is unbelievable; millions of dollars changing hands. Again, if submitted as a screenplay, it would be rejected as having too much of a reach to be believable. Although the rich and the famous are easy targets, this shame was shared by many.
Remember in the old days when the potential for shame guided your decision-making? Didn’t the fear of shame motivate you to do the right thing? Of course, you feared shame for yourself; more importantly, you feared shaming the institution with whom you were employed and most importantly of all, the fear of shaming your family name.
One of my biggest frustrations is when I see individuals put into a position of leadership only to have them not lead! If you are not going to lead, don’t be a leader. If you are not going to parent, rethink having kids. Parenting is one of the most fundamental leadership roles.
Raising children is analogous to baking a cake. You put your kid cake into an oven and you take it out 18 years later and it is either ready or it isn’t. When kids leave for college, they are never coming back; or perhaps more accurately, they come back different. Specifically, they are coming back as adults making their own decisions, as opposed to as subordinates seeking permission for, well let’s just say … everything. When one departs for college, it is your last touch point to instill or punctuate family values. How unfortunate that these parents chose to make that final departing message the imprinting of fraud. Those parents should have followed the advice of Abigail Van Buren: “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” It is not a victimless crime, as the victim is the student who was academically qualified who was denied admission. At Northwestern University, where we receive 40,426 applications for 1,936 freshman seats (an 8.4 percent acceptance rate), legitimate competition for those treasured seats is intentionally and internationally competitive (80 countries represented in our student body). Write a check and pre-empt the line is never acceptable behavior. I must admit I am a bit concerned with my thoughts being so strong on anyone else’s parenting for fear that I create the optic that my parenting was perfect … it was not. I, too, made mistakes but not to the level of fraud. Mine were more like verbally eviscerating the boyfriend that my daughter just broke up with only to have them get back together a week later. Ouch … tough week for me! Got to know that guest bedroom a bit.
Anyway, when the college admission fraud story hit, my daughter texted me the link with the caption, “Well Dad, here is a list we don’t need to worry about you being on, do we?” As most of you know, my other life is a clinical professor at a prestigious university. My own daughter was rejected for admission at my very own university. I never intervened for appeal, nor did my daughter request such of me, let alone did I start writing checks and paying people who have perfected the ability of scripting revisionist history and faux athletic achievements. By the way, my daughter went on with a college degree and after two biological children of her own saw her role in life as a foster mom and adoptive mother of a special needs’ child.
At this point, I might invoke Robert Frost: “two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” However, given my observation of the leadership and parents I see throughout our industry and in my own social circles, I don’t think the high road is the less traveled. We just don’t make the headlines. I suppose we are boring in that regard. Just remember, sometimes “boring is good.”
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” — Robert Fulghum