I am guessing that most people are exhausted with the Sandusky/ Penn State story, but I cannot stop thinking about what we can all learn from this tragedy. It is hard to conceive how reputable people could so easily turn their back when confronted with such evil. Or is it?
We humans have a long history of “selective morality.” For example, assume that Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who witnessed the rape, had accidentally come across a janitor raping a 10 year-old boy in the shower. Would his actions been different? No doubt. He would have intervened to stop the rape, and would have called the police immediately. But when he saw that the perpetrator was Coach Sandusky, he chose a very different course of action.
Why? Coach Sandusky was important to the Penn State Football Program, and the Penn State Football Program was important to Penn State. Penn State has (had?) a great reputation as an outstanding university, and the Football Program was part of that great reputation (not to mention the tens of million of dollars generated by the Football Program). All the way to the very top, basic human morals were compromised.
When human beings are happy with the “status quo” all too often they will condone immorality, to protect the status quo. The compromise may be by an individual, a small group of people, an entire country or a global organization. We have all seen this behavior to one degree or another in our own lives. Here are just a few examples that have become part of our history.
Small Group: The My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War
An entire country: Germany-The Holocaust
Global Organization: The Catholic Church
Each example demonstrates the ability of moral people to set aside their morality to protect the status quo. Most combat soldiers and Marines are appalled when an atrocity is committed. The vast majority of the Germans were moral people. And the good and moral work of the Catholic Church is well known. But the human capacity for ignoring evil exists in everyone.
When the students at Penn State were rioting the other night, it was all about protecting the status quo at Penn State, morality be damned. I would liked to have asked those students, if 10 years from now when they have children, would they be willing to send their children to a summer camp run by Coach Sandusky?