The case of Larry Nassar is painful and horrible on many levels. Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail for sexually abusing over 150 girls. And those girls will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the trauma that was inflicted on them. It is my hope that by writing this article, other people who suffered abuse can find the courage to talk about what happened to them, because talking about what happened is a key step towards healing. Here is an article on general healing, and a second article that focuses on healing in sexual contexts. Both articles carry an important message – survivors of sexual trauma can heal. It isn’t their fault, and there are many professionals available to help.
I am particularly angry and upset about the actions by Michigan State University officials who covered up Nassar’s abuse. (See this article in The Atlantic for the full details.) Clearly, they did not learn the lessons from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, in which an assistant football coach was raping young boys on campus. As people who practice Mussar, we work to stay connected to our ethical traditions, and try to become alert to rationalizations that can lead us to stay silent, or even enable horrible abuse to continue.
Which brings us to the a second reason for this article: We must never allow loyalty to an institution to overcome our personal ethics. This is a modern form of idolatry, which I wrote about extensively in my first book Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self Help For the Chronically Overworked. Idolatry is creating an intermediary between yourself and the divine, and allowing the intermediary to set the terms of right and wrong.
Kristine Moore was the MSU employee in charge of investigating Amanda Thomashow’s complaint that Nassar massaged her breasts and vagina during a medical exam. Moore only consulted internal colleagues of Nassar and then prepared two different reports – 0ne for Thomashow,saying she didn’t know the difference between a medical procedure and sexual abuse. There was also a second, secret internal report that acknowledged the trauma inflicted by the doctor. In the end, Moore chose to protect the interests of the University over the safety of its students.
It is far too easy to say “I would never do such a thing.” I hope that is the case. But for many years I was caught up in corporate idolatry, and I put the needs of the company in front of the needs of people on a regular basis. No one’s life was ruined, but it was not ethical and my choices resulted in unnecessary pain for myself, my family, other employees, and our customers. Here are three Mussar traits to help you avoid the trap of Corporate Idolatry, and prevent another ethical lapse that enabled Larry Nasser
First Mussar Trait: Honor
Before you act, think of the impact of your actions on people, including yourself and your family. If the company wants you to skip a family event (or even worse, you feel you must skip the event for work, even if no one asks you to), think again.
Second Mussar Trait: Truth
Be on the lookout for rationalizations, and be honest with yourself. Have you ever had a thought like “Our company/University/Institution does so much good work, we need to protect it’s reputation.” If you have, it can open the door to rationalizations, like the one that led Kristine Moore to consult only with Nassar’s colleagues to find out if his exams were medically kosher.
Third Mussar Trait: Holiness.
It says in the Torah “You shall be holy.” It isn’t always clear what this means. As a rule of thumb, you can think of it as the quest to be Holy as living an ethical life according to the teachings of the Torah. This may be unfamiliar to you. Remember that building your character according to Torah’s teachings is striving to be a Mensch. The second commandment teaches us not to create graven images, those intermediaries I referred to above. Remember that your primary duty is to follow a higher calling – you can think of it as the Divine, Humanity, universal ethics. Whatever the case, if you often hear “you need to do what is best for the company,” beware! Nod your head politely, and then look to your heart and conscience for guidance on how to act.
What do you think of these Mussar traits? Will they really help us prevent a monster from hurting people longer than he should?
Ask yourself the following questions: Are there unethical people you know of who are unchecked? Are they sexually harassing others, acting as a bully, or treating vendors poorly? These people may not be monsters like Nassar, but their unethical conduct is unacceptable, and if you allow it to continue, other people may be hurt. In fact, when someone like Nassar and their ilk go down, they take down everyone around them.
See next article: This Sin Explains Michigan State’s Decisions About Nassar to learn more about corporate idolatry at Penn State and Michigan State.
Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias via Flickr CC