The Cintas Center Banquet Room was packed with students, professors and visitors from off campus on Monday, March 25. They all came to see Erin Brockovich.
Many were disappointed.
Or at least confused.
“It surprises me how many people see me and say, ‘You’re not Julia Roberts,’ ” Brokovich says, eliciting laughs from the audience.
Brockovich was a single mother struggling for a job back in 1993 when she found herself as the driving force behind the largest medical lawsuit in history. Her story of uncovering corruption and upholding ethics was portrayed by Roberts in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. The role won Roberts an Academy Award and Brockovich national recognition—although, perhaps, in name only.
Brockovich’s efforts also won her the role of speaker at this year’s Heroes of Professional Ethics Lecture Series, the annual event that has now drawn such ethical dignitaries as whistleblowers Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, and forger-turned-FBI agent Frank Abagnale.
But Brockovich’s quest for doing what’s right hasn’t stopped with the $2 billion lawsuit over Pacific Gas and Electric that pushed her into the spotlight. Since then, she’s continued to hold large companies responsible for their damages to the environment, because, she says, when the environment is harmed, so is the community. Covering up environmental damages causes not only health concerns but destroys any trust the company may have had with the community.
“PG&E’s deceit cost them $2 billion, Brockovich says. “Think about how they could have used that $2 billion had they been honest.”
And that was the heart of the issue. Honesty. And the heart of her talk.
“Our ethics, our choices make us,” Brockovich says. “Sometimes we feel like we have no choice, like when a disaster strikes, but our reactions are choices. And they help us change the course.”
Brockovich believes we have the power to help ourselves, pointing to her “RAM system” as an illustration. RAM stands for Realization, Assessment and Motivation. Realization is to recognize who you are, what you are capable of and then finally taking action. Assessment is to take stock of who you are, assessing you skills, values and beliefs, to determine if you are happy with yourself. If you are not, she says, start over and don’t fear change. The final piece is motivation, which she says is the key to success. Find out what inspires you and reflect.
When the three work together, she says, anything can be achieved.