Monthly Archives: November 2011

Roland

Last
night my friend Josh and I hung out with a homeless man in Pittsburgh. We were
walking into a grocery store around 11pm for a snack when a man asked us if we
could spare some change. We passed him on and went inside to get our food, but
as we were walking through the produce section, I turned to Josh and asked him
if he’d want to buy the man some dinner with me. He said sure, so we picked up
a sandwich, some pears and an iced tea, and walked back outside. We walked up
to the man to give him his food and asked if we could sit with him for a while.
He said sure, and we sat down to enjoy our pears. We asked him his name, and he
told us it was Roland, and that he’d been on the streets for 3 years without a
home. Roland was 54, but you would never guess. He was clearly homeless, but he
did his best to take care of his clothes and his appearance. We could tell
pretty quickly that he wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug addict, because he had
retained his youth -though his beard was turning white. As we delved deeper into
Roland’s story, I learned two things: that Roland didn’t really choose to be
homeless, and that I was pretty powerless to do anything to change his
situation.

 

For the first point, let me elaborate: although I can’t claim
to know the whole picture,  I did learn
the immediate circumstances that led to Roland’s state. He was imprisoned a
little over 3 years ago for a few months after he witnessed a woman being
beaten by a man, and tried to intervene and protect the woman. Someone called
the police, who promptly showed up and arrested all three of them, and Roland
-who I’m sure was without a job at the time, and without family either -was
forgotten amid the bureaucracy of the judicial system. When he got out, he had
no money and nowhere to go. I asked him if he had any family, and he replied
simply that his mother was dead. Since then he has moved from place to place
every night, looking for a dry place to sleep. When it’s warm, he will sleep in
parks, but in winter he lies under a bridge to stay warm. When we met him, he
was waiting for a friend of his to return with a blanket for him to use. We
never met his friend, but Josh gave Roland a blanket and some new socks that he
had in the trunk of his car.

 

I realized around the moment that Roland told me that he
didn’t have a family that there was little that I could do to fix his
situation. This man is 3 years short of my own father’s age, and living in a
city that I know little about. I couldn’t even tell him where the closest
church or shelter was to rest for the night. We gave him some food and a
blanket, and did our best to show him that we respected him, but ultimately we
left without really changing his situation at all.

 

As small as our actions were though, I think that that might
have been the start of a solution. We sat with Roland for almost an hour, and I
realized that although most people walked by without acknowledging him, a
number of people were unable to when they noticed that Josh and I were sitting
with him. I think that our presence at the very minimum showed the passersby
that Roland wasn’t harmful. I wonder -and I propose that had we stayed with him
longer -the rest of the night, a few days maybe -we might have found a way to
really help him. If we put ourselves in the position to see his full environment,
we would be able to critically assess the core of his poverty, and maybe find a
way to bring him out of it.

 

But
even I couldn’t wait to get back to my bed and to lay down to rest.

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Essay Series: Critical Thinking in Leadership

I wonder how much last week’s development will really matter in the long run. Stringing it back together in my head, this is the order that I create:

Friday, the Grand Jury report is released. Monday, it hit the fan among the University and some news sources. By Tuesday the whole world knew, and a few clowns ran around Beaver Canyon. Wednesday the tension built, culminating in the removal of Paterno and Spanier, and Penn State’s 3rd annual Beaver Canyon riot. By Friday we understood that we needed to mourn the victims and what happened to them, and on Saturday we left it on the field. I can’t help but think that most students won’t really walk away from this any different than they were before it arrived, and perhaps more frustrating -that the despite our international media following, that the world is almost the same today as it was 2 weeks ago.

I think that we haven’t grasped the depth of human depravity that we witnessed, and I certainly don’t believe that we realize that what Sandusky (allegedly) did happens day in and day out probably a hundred million times over. I held a meeting for my organization last week for students to come in and hear the Grand Jury report and discuss what the appropriate response to it is. One friend of mine, a townie told me that her sister who goes to school in southern California overheard many of her classmates saying that “they would hate to live in a place like that”. How one can be so naive to believe that rape and molestation doesn’t happen in L.A. is beyond me. Perhaps even more concerning is that I’m not sure people realize that Sandusky wasn’t the only person in State College molesting kids. There are still many more in our Valley, in L.A., and certainly far more in countries that lack effective rule of law.

I think it’s a sad thing that many students were more passionately moved to defend Paterno than the victims, though I must admit that I don’t even have empathy for the victims yet. Our school will rebuild its glory, the justice will be pursued against Sandusky, but I wonder how different each of us will be. I have seen deeper into human depravity than I ever have before, but I don’t know what my practical response to it should be -because the reality is that this is going on day in and day out around the world and I am completely separated from it. Or so I see myself.

The question of leadership arises within this. “Do I think critical thinking is important in developing as a leader?”

Of course it does. Without it, the status quo would never be examined and found to be insufficient. Applying critical thinking to last week’s events, I conclude that:

One way or another, there was serious neglect on the part of multiple individuals and the University. Many people are sympathizing with Paterno, but the fact remains -and I’m sure he’d agree -that those in leadership abide by stricter standards and must face the consequences.

Another thing that I’ve experience from using critical thinking has been realizing that in no way can the weight of neglect be reserved for Paterno, Spanier, Curly, Shultz and McQuery. The students and the community created a culture where Sandusky thought that he could get away with it (and did for so very long).  We created the culture and attributed the influence to Sandusky that caused the janitors to remain silent in fear of losing their jobs. That’s our own fault; the Board of Trustees made the best decision that they could of, and the students need to suck it up and move on.

Critical thinking is the process of questioning our assumptions; why do we believe what we believe. Are there faults in our logic? Maybe more in tune to this situation; do we recognize our position, which is without enough information to fully comprehend the events that occurred? Unfortunately, there are forces at play that make it impossible for critical thinking to be the only decision model. To begin with, we must recognize that although the leader may use critical thinking, the public will most likely not. It is commonly known that the most read part of the newspaper after the front page is the editorial section. In last week’s episode, the public opinion was fueled not by patient citizens reading the Grand Jury report, but by rash students following Twitter feeds and pundits who were quick to overstate and inflate the story. I think that if more people read the report, and chose not to follow social media, editorials and pundits, we probably wouldn’t have flipped that van. The fact remains that most people don’t enjoy being patient and thinking critically.

Additionally, critical thinking may lead us to overlook the question of moral obligation. Critically thinking, we can justify the inaction of many to defend those kids, but we belittle the possibility that refusing to protect the innocent is inexcusable.

Ultimately, critical thinking will get us to a better answer, but we are still required to operate under the constraint that others may refuse to think critically as well. The obstacle is facilitating our peers’ own critical thinking -removing emotion, inspiring patience, and asking them to question their assumptions.

From all of this, I have learned the depth of depravity that humans are capable of, and that most people are quick to believe that they would never be capable of doing the same. I make this statement in the hope that it will cause each and every one of us to examine our own lives -not just whether we would be capable of doing what he did, but perhaps whether we would be capable a different tragedy: people don’t turn 60 and decide that they want to rape children. They also don’t turn 20 and think that they’d like to be that person when they grow up. There were more forces at play in Sandusky’s personal development than simply an attraction to children. Many people could have prevented him along the way; perhaps going as far back as to his own childhood. How we live our own lives inevitably impacts the lives of those around us.

 

From disillusionment to requirement

This week I think I’ve finally breached the disillusionment of school that so many seniors feel every year. I am tired, of course; too many late nights spent working on projects out of insecurity to succeed in the over-competitive job search has certainly taken its toll. But I’m beginning to look beyond my current emotions and ask the difficult question of where my frustration really comes from.

I ran into a friend of mine in the Atrium this morning and confessed to him that I’m beginning to believe that my time would really be better spent through self-teaching. The idea is this: we’ve finally learned all that is expected of us as 7th semester business school students (myself with a grand total of 4 credits left to take on my degree audit), and are almost simply going through the motions to prove our credibility to employers in the hopes that they will let us work for them. My friend -who is by far one of the most entrepreneurial and brightest minds in the business school -couldn’t have agreed more. I believe that we both have understood that our work should achieve more than mere academic success, and we have certainly realized that -just like money -good grades will only motivate a person so much.

I have discovered that my peers and I live in a society where we have learned that it is our responsibility to secure for ourselves more than the most necessary provisions in life. We push ourselves to excel in school so that we can land a job where we will ensure our own livelihood for years to come, but we rarely ask ourselves where our aspiration has gone. Ask yourself; when you were nine, did you believe that you could change the world? Perhaps, more importantly; ask yourself at what point did you begin to give up your aspirations to make way for the pursuit of wealth and security. My point is not to convince you to believe a false ideology that we all need to be the MLKs and the Ghandis of the world, but rather of the reality that sooner or later we will all die, and none of our accomplishments will come with us (at least as I’ve come to learn it).

The implication of this though is simple: what brings you greater joy? It may be completely legitimate that your happiness comes from securing your own $50,000+ salary for next year (or 2 years from now for all you juniors), and all the things that will come with it. But I myself am not entirely settled on that yet. What I am learning about myself is that I am motivated by a number of things: freedom to pursue my own lifestyle -where I live; how much I can travel; how much time I can spend with my family; how much time will I be able to invest in the community in which I live? I’m motivated by the nature of my work; will I get to transform a country’s civil infrastructure and help them get out of poverty, or will I spend my career making production lines for consumer products run more efficiently?

If I was given free reign over my education this semester, I would spend a lot more time reading; probably a lot of Harvard Business Review articles, but more likely a whole lot more C.S. Lewis.  I’d probably teach myself a skill like web programming or graphic design. More than anything though, I would examine the world around me -though this is hard when living in State College -and I’d find a way to fix some part of it. I don’t have any grand reason why, other than I don’t think that life comes from seeking my own prosperity. The interesting thing is that I also don’t believe that life comes from selflessness either. As the late Steve Jobs once said, “We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time”, so why would selflessness in and of itself matter either?

I invite you to examine your own life and the world you live in, and particularly I invite you to challenge the values you hold regarding purpose: what it is, and whether you are actually searching for it. I found my answer in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, verse 68, though I am continually trying to understand what it truly requires from me. Ask yourself, what your life requires from you.