April 01, 2019

National Charity League | Dr. Curry

Dr. Shannon Curry held a presentation on the topic of Leadership and Doing the Right Thing for the National Charity League’s Spring meeting on March 21st.

Their talks addressed two recent local news incidents including the posting of social media images from a Newport Harbor High School party in which students saluted a swastika of red beer cups; and the arrest of a Newport Beach college admissions counselor who stands accused of helping wealthy families fraudulently gain their teens’ admission into elite colleges.

Drs. Curry and Incledon started the talks by pointing out the human tendency to blame and shame when another person is discovered to have acted “deviantly.” However, social science has shown us that one of the most significant risk factors for acting in these ways is to assume that we would not behave similarly or that we are not subject to similar social and systemic vulnerabilities.

As we know from history, the greatest evil often occurs as a result of inaction. To strengthen our leadership ability and increase the likelihood that we will Do Right or behave morally when a situation calls for it, the most important step is to understand how powerful social and systemic forces like group think, dehumanization, social distancing, social referencing, diffusion of responsibility, and the foot-in-the-door phenomenon can contribute to the normalization and acceptance of deviance.

Dr. Curry and Dr. Incledon encouraged the National Charity League audience to consider leadership as a form of heroism, which often requires a personal sacrifice for a greater moral cause. In using the Newport Harbor party as an example, Dr. Curry illustrated that if there were teens there who recognized that what was happening was wrong, they almost certainly experienced worry about the potential social exclusion and ridicule they might face if they were to stand up to the group. After events like this occur, people who participated in the wrong-doing often regret not having said or done something to prevent its occurrence. Even more common is to learn that multiple participants in the wrong-doing wanted it to stop, but they believed that that they were the only ones who felt that way. This underscores history’s lessons that even more dangerous than an evil-doer is the failure of others to take action against evil. If just one person speaks up, there are others who are likely to follow.

Dr. Curry and Dr. Incledon encouraged National Charity League audience members to reflect on and discuss their moral values and ethics to which they are committed, as well as to consider the sort of sacrifices they would make for those guiding principles. By strengthening our awareness of our values and intentionally committing to uphold those values in the face of a potential sacrifice, we are far more likely to Do Right when the situation calls for it. As humans we are capable of causing great harm, but we are also capable of great heroism.