Monday, August 25, 2008

Integrity on display

I thank God for examples like Joe Gibbs:

You may have seen ads for an insurance company touting its commitment to responsibility. They feature people doing the right thing, such as returning lost property and helping strangers, simply because it is the right thing to do.

The ads have struck a nerve with the public—probably because personal responsibility is not one of the defining traits of our age.

There is another, equally important, aspect of good character and responsibility: that is, owning up to your mistakes and transgressions. Happily, there are real-world examples of this kind of responsibility in, of all places, the race track.

Earlier this year NASCAR ordered one team to reduce the horsepower generated by its engines in an attempt to make races more competitive. That team had won more than half of the races this season.

Compliance with the order was determined by what is known as a “chassis dynamometer” test—or “dyno test” for short.

In the competitive world of auto racing, where money, prestige, and pride are always on the line, such an order does not go down very well. Mechanics and technicians who have spent countless hours perfecting their cars might resent this attempt to level the playing field. They might even put a kind of moral spin on the issue: It is “unfair,” maybe even “un-American,” to “punish” excellence in this way.

So it comes as no surprise that someone might try to disobey the order while appearing to be in compliance by fooling the dynamometer. And that is exactly what happened: During “chassis dyno” tests after a recent race in Michigan, NASCAR inspectors found that the team’s mechanics had rigged the cars to appear as if they were in compliance when they were not. In other words, they cheated.

While the cheating is not surprising, the name of the team is: Joe Gibbs Racing. It is surprising because Gibbs is an outspoken Christian who has gone into prisons with me. I know Joe well and respect his character and integrity—they are unimpeachable.

That is why I was not surprised at what followed: While neither Joe nor his son J. D. had any clue as to what their employees were doing, they took “full responsibility” for their employees’ actions.

Joe said that the incident “goes against everything we stand for as an organization.” He added that “we will take full responsibility and accept any penalties NASCAR levies against us.”
That’s it: no evasion, no excuses, no spin. It stands in marked contrast to the evasions and “damage control” we hear and read about all the time. People caught breaking the law or behaving badly blame everything from dyslexia, their disadvantaged upbringing, and even acid reflux for their failings. When they do acknowledge fault, they seek to mitigate their responsibility by citing “extenuating” circumstances—or, as we see with politicians, regularly they call sin just a “mistake.”

It is not just celebrities and politicians. Americans talk about responsibility, but we are all-too-eager to pass the blame along, especially if there is punishment involved.

That is why I so admire Joe Gibbs’s willingness to take his punishment without qualifiers. Joe and family are not only doing the right thing, they are setting a real-world example for the rest of us to emulate. Thank you, Joe, for your Christian witness and teaching the rest of us a lesson.


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