The Penn State scandal has rocked the country, taking with it football legend Joe Paterno and perhaps more to come. The fallout has continued with the suspension of Mike McQueary who allegedly saw former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky molesting a 10-year-old boy in the shower in 2002. McQueary is now in protective custody after receiving numerous threats.
It is clear that many things went awry in this horrible situation. Those in positions to support and help students failed in protecting the young victims who were further subjected to this abuse for years.
It is awful to comprehend these acts. We wonder how and why men who acted upright in other situations failed to come to aide of children in such dire circumstances. It seems the ‘system’ whether is was the university or the football program and their connections to it trumped their desire ‘to do the right thing.’
We have seen this many times when the ‘victim’ or the ‘whistle blower’ is made to suffer further degradation. Though I will be clear that Mike McQueary is hardly the whistleblower in that he walked away and allowed the situation to continue and even after alerting his superiors he and the rest failed to report the incident to the authorities.
I am speaking of when the person who has been harmed is rejected and maligned because the system’s survival is more important. The system can be a school as in this case, or a company, agency, church or government. Most importantly the system can be as small as ‘a family.’ How many have reported that they were abused by their father, mother, brother, sister, grandfather or grandmother and been severely punished and rejected by that same family.
It is true that on the smallest level - the system - which is the family, sometimes allows the perpetrator of gross abuse to continue and thrive. The abuser often continues the mistreatment into the next generation. A good daughter may allow her own children to be tended by the same grandfather whom her sibling has told her molested her as a child. Why would she do this?
Many people do not want to think that someone in their own family would do harmful things. Family dynamics are complex and so messed up at times. Those same dynamics play out in larger systems like companies and schools going all the way up into complex organizations like entire countries.
Why Do Good People Sometimes Ignore Horrible Crimes?
The question of why people fail to do the right thing and report a crime has been asked over and over. Is it fear for their own survival? Do they minimize the wrong or do they blame the victim? Perhaps they think someone else will handle it and don’t want the complications of being involved. Maybe they think they will be implicated. Is the system where the incident occurred too big and powerful in their minds?
Edmund Burke said, “All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
We stand in the ‘era of shadows’ when the truths of men shall haunt us. In Spirituality we were taught about this current period of history, when everything shall be uncovered. This is a time where that which has been hidden shall be revealed.
Right now there are those who are being laid bare, men and women, great and small whose personal demons are being unveiled for all to see. Herman Cain is working to weather the storm of alleged sexual molestation and Conrad Murray’s acts have brought him some form of penalty.
In mythology Achilles was the son of Thetis. She wanted to protect him so she dipped him in the River Styx by the ankle. He was protected by water everywhere except the ankle by which she held him. Achilles grew up strong and powerful. He was a fierce and somewhat arrogant warrior. He fought many battles and was victorious. His down fall came in the battle of Troy when Paris shot him in the unprotected ankle with an arrow and killed him. That is where the story of the ‘Achilles Heel’ arises.
Each person has an Achilles Heel and is a combination of greatness and vulnerability. People are a part of systems and thus systems are equally bound by that truth. Systems have their own Achilles Heels.
Our strengths and weaknesses can be honed into virtues if we acknowledge and work with them. Many great men and women fall by those weakness. Their tumble from the mountain tops is a teaching tool from which we can each glean valuable insights.
These revelations can help each person to look within themselves and release their own personal falsehoods which have held them bound. The biggest lesson is that when we protect the smallest and weakest amongst us we ultimately strengthen the whole of humanity and both the systems and the individuals thrive.