COMMENTARY: Tis the Season to be Jolly — Even While Shopping

People are not at their best in crowds. It’s as if every survival-of-the-fittest primordial instinct comes out to obliterate thousands of years of civilization. Pre-and post-holiday shopping, and the inevitable lines, test our character. My wife’s a professional shopper. She has strategies on where to park and how to find the fastest moving line (which I’ve discovered is not always …

COMMENTARY: I Just Have to Outrun You

During a camping trip, Sam and Tom saw a bear coming their way. Sam started to take off his backpack and told Tom he was going to run for it. When his surprised friend said, “You can’t outrun a bear,” Sam replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.” Sadly, this look-out-for-number-one mentality is …

COMMENTARY: Don’t Brag, But Be Proud

Today, after winning a big game it’s common for athletes and fans to chant, “We’re number one,” in a classless display of self-praise that comes off as conceit and disrespectful taunting. I sometimes feel that way about materials praising America. Still, national pride is important. Reminders about the high principles on which this nation was based are essential to keep …

COMMENTARY: Character Is an Essential Part of Competence

If you were hiring a new CEO, what are the most important qualities you’d look for? Surely you’d want a high level of demonstrated competence – knowledge, experience, intelligence, vision, communication, and relationship skills and the ability to motivate, manage, and solve problems. But what about qualities such as honesty, moral courage, accountability, and fairness? Despite bold rhetoric about the …

COMMENTARY: The Values Our Kids Learn From Others

Blessed with the opportunities and obligations of raising four young daughters, my wife Anne and I are profoundly aware of the importance of instilling good values that will help them become capable, honorable and happy adults. I think we’re doing a pretty good job, but we know that isn’t enough. Frankly, we’re worried about the values and character of your …

COMMENTARY: Coach Wooden the Philosopher

According to Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher is a person who seeks to understand and solve the most serious problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. A true philosopher, Thoreau added, is so committed to wisdom that he seeks to live wisely and so lives a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. By this definition, John Wooden, my …

COMMENTARY: A Manager’s Dilemma: Dealing With Misbehaving Top Performers

Managers prove themselves to be leaders when they do what is right, even when it costs more than they want to pay, because they understand that the cost of losing credibility and moral authority outweighs the benefits of expedient compromise. Just as the best athletes on a team often expect and get special treatment when it comes to violating rules …

COMMENTARY: Competition in the Arts

Competition often brings out the best performance but it doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Even in the arts, actors, singers, dancers, and musicians must survive and thrive in a competitive community as rude and rough as any. Ambitious parents often introduce toxic gamesmanship and back-biting attitudes very early as their children are judged and ranked by the …

COMMENTARY: What I Want My Daughter to Get Out of Sports

Several years ago, when my daughter Carissa was about to enter her first gymnastics competition, I wrote her a letter expressing my hopes and goals for her athletic experience. Here’s a revised version: My Dearest Carissa, I know you’ve worked hard to prepare yourself to compete, and I know how much you want to win. That’s a good goal. You …

COMMENTARY: The Ultimate Solution to Bullying in Schools: A Student-Led Culture of Kindness

Olivia Gardner was a sixth grader in Northern California when her life began to unravel. It started when she suffered an epileptic seizure in front of her classmates. Immediately, the name-calling began. The hallway insults and ridicule — “freak,” “retard,” “weirdo” — escalated into cyber-bullying when a few particularly nasty students set up an “Olivia Haters” website. One student dragged …

COMMENTARY: A Perfect Game

In Echoes of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of a young boy with severe learning disabilities named Shaya who was walking past a park with his father when he saw a group of boys playing baseball. He asked his dad if he thought they’d let him play. Although Shaya couldn’t even hold a bat properly, his father …

COMMENTARY: The Struggle Between Wants and Shoulds

As a full-time ethicist – can you believe there is such a thing? – I spend most of my time talking about right and wrong with parents and politicians, kids and corporate managers, journalists and generals. One thing I’ve learned is that ethics – being a good person and doing the right thing – is easier said than done. Ethics, …

COMMENTARY: We Expect More of Adults

Although 11-year-old Mark wasn’t much of an athlete, his dad urged him to play youth baseball. Mark liked to play, but he was hurt by the remarks of teammates and spectators whenever he struck out or dropped a ball. Just before the fourth game of the season, Mark told his dad he didn’t want to go. “I’m no good,” he …

COMMENTARY 984.4: Is It Really Only About Winning?

Long ago, I entered law school wanting to do good. I left more concerned with doing well. In an atmosphere dominated by raging competitive instincts, persuasive rationalizations, and real economic pressures, cynicism drowned out idealism. My notion of the legal system as a grand forum for the pursuit of truth and justice was reduced to the idea that, in the …

COMMENTARY 983.4: Working Together

I want to be thin — especially when I’m not hungry. And it seems the President and members of Congress want to work together — especially if they don’t have strong feelings about the issue. I liked President Obama’s call for more civility and greater cooperation, but I’m not convinced it will happen. There’s always a lot of room between …

COMMENTARY 983.2: If You Love Competition, You Never Lose

Suppose you’re an Olympic athlete and you hear that the only person who has a chance to beat you is ill and may have to withdraw. Are you overjoyed at your good luck or disappointed that you will not be able to compete against the very best? If you really love and understand sports, you ought to be disappointed. John …

COMMENTARY 982.3: Doing Sports Right

When I was a kid playing sports, there were no clubs, travel teams, or private coaches. Except for summer baseball leagues, the primary place to play was high school. When I was in the 10th grade, I wanted to play basketball in the worst way. Unfortunately, given my size and talent, that’s how I played. But in those days, sports …

Kids Like to Win; Adults Need to Win

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you have to acknowledge the powerful cultural influence that sports have on our culture. The values of millions of participants and spectators are shaped by the values conveyed in sports, including our views of what is permissible and proper in the competitive pursuit of personal goals. Professional sports and even highly competitive intercollegiate …

COMMENTARY 975.5: What Is Character?

Here’s a riddle: You can hardly ever find it anymore — especially in politics or business. Lots of schools don’t teach it anymore. We want more of it in our children and in all the adults who interact with them. We want it from our bosses and the people who fix our cars. And most of us believe we have …

COMMENTARY 974.3: The Pressure to Win in Sports and Business

A former successful college coach and athletic director once wrote me a note about the state of college sports. The pressure to win in high-profile schools is so great, he said, that it’s almost impossible to resist rationalizing. When competitors cheat or engage in other unethical conduct, the tendency is to redefine the ground rules for competition rather than be …

COMMENTARY 973.4: The Pressure to Cheat

What’s causing the growing hole in our moral ozone? Why are cheating and lying so common in schools, on the sports field, and in business and politics? Apparently it’s a thing called pressure. Kids are under pressure to get into college, athletes and coaches are under pressure to win, and, according to a survey by the American Management Association, the …

DEFLATING ETHICAL EXPECTATIONS IN SPORTS

(Revised 9/5/15) DEFLATING ETHICAL EXPECTATIONS By Michael Josephson* “At its best, athletic competition can hold intrinsic value for our society. It is a symbol of a great ideal: pursuing victory with honor. The love of sports is deeply embedded in our national consciousness. The values of millions of participants and spectators are directly and dramatically influenced by the values conveyed by …