Memories of Awe Episode 16

Liz had been thinking about the concept of awe and how it can be the result of something joyful but also evil. Obviously Professor McKown’s memories had focused on the joyful side of awe, but she wondered if there were any memories that came from evil.

LJ: You’ve really touched me with your memories, but I wonder if you have any stories that were not as joyful? As you know, awe can also be a reaction to evil.

KMcK:  Thankfully I don’t have any memories that I would say are on the evil side, but I do have some that are disappointments.

LJ: Could you share one of those?

KMcK:  This one began with a phone call from a graduate by the name of Wilson. As a student, he would be like most that I taught. He was an athlete in high school. In our program he did well. He had a great career with increasing responsibility.

I hadn’t heard from him in a while, so I was surprised when he called. When I asked him how he was doing, he told me he just got out of jail. I was floored.

LJThat must have been quite a shock. What did he do?

KMcK:  He was head of the financial unit for a large telecom company that no longer exists. The company was rapidly growing and a darling to Wall Street investors. The trouble was that many of the large business customers were mob controlled. Essentially, the company was supporting pornography, gambling, and prostitution sites.

When Wilson tried to alert the senior executives to the fact that these customers weren’t paying their bills, he was ignored. To be open about the bad debt would have tanked the company’s stock price. The senior executives were living a life of luxury and were unlikely to do anything to open up the company to scrutiny.

LJ: So what did Wilson do?

KMcK:  The wrong thing. He negotiated a deal with the companies where they could pay just a fraction of their debt. The problem was that the debt payment went into an offshore account owned by Wilson. He would then remove any record of the debt from the company’s computer system.

Wilson began to live a life of luxury as well and that led to his undoing. The FBI was able to document what he had done, and as a result he was facing a long jail sentence.

LJ: But, you said Wilson got out of jail?

KMcK: He did that by agreeing to testify against the senior executives of his employer. All of them received what were essentially life sentences given their age. While Wilson’s time in prison was shortened, he lost his family. When he got out of jail, he had to start over with his life. That’s why he called me.

LJ: So what did he do?

KMcK:  He’s become one of the leading voices in our country on the issue of white-collar crime. I see posts from him on LinkedIn. He also works with the FBI.

LJ: I can see where you would be disappointed. But you must also be in awe of how he turned his life around.

KMcK:  I am, and his story is a great one for my class on ethics. I tell students that an essential question in life is: Would you rather be or have?

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“Don’t be afraid to start over. It gives you a chance to build something even better.” – Unknown

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