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.



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