Human Nature

I am rarely one to write about politics and controversy, and much has been said about Penn State. The atrocities those boys experienced are unimaginable. All should be able to agree that what happened to them was undeniably wrong, horrific and tragic. What most cannot seem to agree on was the responsibility and guilt of Joe Paterno—and the rest of the staff with knowledge of Sandusky's actions.

Most of that discussion I leave to lawyers, victims and sportscasters. But this week, I found David Brooks' op-ed both thought-provoking and challenging. His basic arguments are far more eloquent than my summary, but essentially most people have higher moral expectations of themselves than their actual behaviors. In this case, most of us believe that we would have told police, turned in Sandusky and saved the day. We say we would theoretically take one high-minded action, yet when faced with the reality of the decision, often take a neutral or contrary action. We do not step in. We do not save the day. Obviously there are exceptions to this, people we usually deem "heroes." But basic human nature is far darker than our society is willing to acknowledge. Brooks argues that the first step in actually preventing tragedies like this is admitting our own weakness. It's the first voice I've read with a solution that goes beyond justice. 

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: "How could they have let this happen?" 

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive? That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it's a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

This had nothing to do with design or travel or any of the other things that bring me happiness. It just made me think.

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