The news lately has been focused on a bunch of people who decided their careers were more important than stopping an alleged pedophile. But what would you have done?

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky didn’t do a great job keeping his behavior hidden, even showering with boys where others could see. So the big question has been, why didn’t someone step up and stop his claimed inappropriate behavior with young boys?

paterno.jpgFamed coach, Joe Paterno, knew what Sandusky was doing, but he turned a blind eye. Why? A columnist for the Boston Herald, Gerry Callahan, did the best job explaining his actions. Of Paterno, he wrote:

The kids in the shower with Coach Sandusky? They were a nuisance. They were threat to the fairy tale that Paterno had spun for decades.

Paterno has been like a god in college sports, and exposing Sandusky’s actions could have potentially hurt his own career.

We can all say right now that we would have stepped up. But there are always risks when taking such actions, especially for rank and file employees who don’t have oblivious college fans supporting them.

Doing what’s right can get you fired. Walmart is notorious for axing employees who felt they had to take action for the greater good.

Earlier this year, four employees at a Walmart store in Utah lost their jobs for safely disarming a gun-toting shoplifter.

Walmart is often seen as the toughest defender of its own edicts when it comes not only to merchandising, but also its workforce. But does this approach make business or ethical sense, and does it ever cross the legal line?

“Walmart has a very persistent history of enforcing its policies; whether it’s right or wrong they enforce their policies,” said David Childers, CEO of EthicsPoint, an ethics and compliance solutions provider. “Walmart is rules laden, and less principles based.”

* a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.
* a rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior.
* morally correct behavior and attitudes.

The system, in Corporate America and the work world at large, seems to have slipped away from principles, whether it’s corporate greed and corruption, or individuals who think being moral isn’t worth the effort if it hurts their careers or wallets. This is true in the political world as well. If you missed the 60 Minutes piece on members of Congress trading on inside information this past weekend I suggest you watch it if you get a chance:

Power, prestige, and the opportunity to become a Washington insider with access to information and connections that no one else has, in an environment of privilege where rules that govern the rest of the country, don’t always apply to them.

The story will turn your stomach, and make you realize that the immoral behavior witnessed at Penn State is not limited to the football field.

Is it illegal for Paterno to turn his back on vulnerable kids? Probably not. Is it illegal for members of Congress to enrich themselves on the backs of the citizens of the country? Probably not.

Is it unprincipled? Yes. But is it worth risking it all to be otherwise?

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