Earlier this week, Michael Josephson visited Lawrence to talk about ethics and character. Josephson is the founder and president of the Josephson Institute, which is designed to help people make principled decisions and live with greater integrity.
Josephson is a lawyer who taught law at three different universities and had a successful business career. In the mid-1980s, he decided to sell the business and concentrate his efforts on ethics, character and good sportsmanship.
As one writer observed in 2002, "in the broadest terms, Josephson's goal is nothing less than to alter America's moral trajectory by making ethics part of the national conversation. Our indignation over the moral depravity of September 11 and the unfolding Enron scandal can only help, but even without the impact of those events, we may finally be recovering from the quiet disillusionment that began with Watergate.
"At the very least, we are better positioned to address more than three decades of social decay marked by an all-too-familiar list: drugs, violence, sexual laxity, family disintegration, declining civility, educational malaise, surging prison population and civic non-involvement."
Josephson had two public presentations in Lawrence, at the Holidome and at Kansas University, each with an attendance of more than 400, and another private meeting with more than 100 people associated with the Journal-World, World Company and Sunflower Broadband.
He had excellent panels at the public programs with the governor, the KU chancellor, KU's basketball coach, Kansas Board of Regents officials, a leading state legislator, a federal judge, a minister, a senior researcher at the KU Medical Center, a county commissioner and the president and CEO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
At each session, Josephson discussed ethics and offered many examples of how individuals use rationalizations to justify to themselves how they have acted. He cited statistics of how many youngsters admit they have stolen something within the past few years and how many have cheated on school examinations.
He talked about a university environment in which binge drinking or date rape is a problem and raised questions about ethics in almost every possible field of business, academia, sports and personal behavior.
Josephson has focused much attention on sports, both at the K-12 and college levels. He works with college basketball coaches and university athletic directors but is frustrated by the fact that many talk about making positive changes but few take any specific actions. He justifies his concern about sports by pointing out he believes the values youngsters learn through sports often are reflected in their behavior as adults.
Did his visit do any good? Did those in his audience leave the presentations giving more thought to their own behavior, whether in business, at their homes with their spouses and children, in sports, in the educational arena or in any other endeavor?
Did Josephson cause people to give more attention to ethics? For example, should the public school system offer or require courses on ethics? How about at the university level? Should all students, regardless of their majors, be required to take a course on ethics?
As a legislator who attended one of the sessions said, "I think every new state legislator should hear Josephson's message about ethics. Twenty or 30 years ago, a lawmaker's word was as good as gold; today your word doesn't mean much in politics. Maybe all legislators, not just new legislators, should hear Josephson's message."
Most individuals would agree the lack of ethics is a serious matter and anything that can be done to stress the importance of ethics, honesty, character and good sportsmanship should receive top priority.
Hopefully, the one-day focus on ethics will cause many Lawrence residents to give a bit more attention to ethics and how they conduct their own lives. Hopefully, those who attended the public sessions will visit about what they heard with members of their family and with associates at their workplaces.
A one-day program, however, is not going to get the job done. It requires far greater attention and a genuine desire by individuals to be better citizens, better parents, better children, better employers and better employees.
Consider how great it would be and quite possibly the benefits that would be derived from Lawrence being known as a city that focuses on ethics and good citizenship. What if KU, one of the nation's fine public universities, which stresses a superior academic opportunity for its students and faculty, also had the national reputation of graduating young men and women who are knowledgeable about ethics and good citizenship?
What about being a national leader in these areas and setting an example for other cities and other universities? It may seem like a pipe dream to some, but doesn't some city and some university need to make the effort to achieve these lofty goals?