What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

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