Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The News

When I read the news this morning, it depressed me. The New York Times is full of things that are negative, as is the Rochester D&C and the Syracuse Post. The Centre Daily Times is a horror show of depressing and aggravating news.

The Penn State scandal is all over the national news, and it seems as if it will continue to worsen. I have been struggling with the firing of Joe Paterno, not because I don't support accountability for his actions, but because of my own grief. He is the same age as my father, and came of age in a time when sexual abuse scandals were often disavowed or swept under the rug, or handled outside of the legal arena. Certainly, Paterno is a part of a wide web of cronyism and deceit. However, the world is not black and white. It actually is relativistic in ways, and the reality of Paterno's affect on the sports world, Penn State, and the State College community, has a wide range of good and bad.

There is no question that he should have done more - he should have - and he is recognizing that now in his statements to the press. It's too little, too late. His complicity does not however, negate the good he has done for the community. And that's where I feel grief for the community and university, whose people have conflicted feelings. Those feelings don't mean that Paterno shouldn't be held accountable - they are just normal feelings of loss and betrayal.

 I think about how my own father might have reacted in a similar situation, and my guess is, he would have done what Paterno did - for a lot of reasons, and not because he supported sexual abuse of anyone. Their generation had a different approach to abuse than we do today. Again, I am not in any way excusing Paterno's, or anyone else involved for their moral culpability, but this is one of those "both...and" situations, where a person had made a horrible decision not to act against evil, and they have done a lot of good in their life. At the sunset of his life, Paterno has lost everything - deservedly so.

The victims of these crimes have lost much, much more, and will suffer for many more years. There is nothing, no legal redress, that will eliminate the damage that has been done to them, and for that I grieve as well, much more than for Paterno's losses, which he brought on himself. These victims were innocent children, already at risk, who weren't protected by adults who were supposed to be upholding personal and ethical standards of conduct for themselves, the university, and The Second Mile.

What I think is that there is most often a right way to act, but that our feelings just are. And that's hard ground to cross when people are feeling outrage, betrayal, anger and disgust - as well as loss, grief, and horror. It's like arguments between fundamentalist religious groups - it's almost impossible to reach across that chasm of feeling that your feelings/beliefs are the right ones. But in the case of all those involved in this terrible tragedy, the feelings span a wide range of emotion and experience. The comments in the news articles often reflect these entrenched feelings. I am a pragmatist - I know that people are not always able to validate others' feelings, especially when their own feelings are intense, but the idealist in me always hopes that people will try to see outside of their own experience and walk in another's shoes.

Mostly, I would hope that people would keep the victims in the forefront of their prayers and not be distracted by the machinations of the institutions to keep sweeping that issue out of the way.

1 comment:

Robin Edgar said...

"He is the same age as my father, and came of age in a time when sexual abuse scandals were often disavowed or swept under the rug, or handled outside of the legal arena."

I regret to have to inform you that Unitarian Universalist sexual abuse scandals are still often disavowed, or swept under the rug, or (mis)handled outside of the legal arena. *Some* UUs even try to cover up and hide, or otherwise sweep under the proverbial rug, UU sex abuse scandals that actually are handled in the legal arena and convictions are obtained. . .