Lyles: Shouldering a higher level of responsibility
By Dick Lyles
It’s easy (and appropriate) to criticize the business executives who put self-serving interests and greed ahead of the common good. It’s also easy to criticize those politicians who base every decision on how it affects their next election. Likewise it’s not hard to find fault with unions and other special interest groups who subvert the service goals in their respective industry segments in order to produce personal gain for their members.
The problem in discussing these problems is that we tend to address them as though they are the cause of society’s ills rather than symptoms of a much deeper and more troubling malady.
The Penn State sex abuse scandal can serve as an apt metaphor for a problem that permeates our society. That problem is our culture’s norm of making self-serving choices without regard to the negative impact these decisions might have on others. Let me explain.
The graduate assistant coach who witnessed a child rape in progress didn’t intervene. He could have at least asked if everything was OK. He waited until the next day and reported it to his boss, not the police. Coach Paterno reported it, but obviously with a lack of urgency because he didn’t follow up. Administrators right on up the line didn’t act. I don’t accept the assertion that they were protecting the Penn State football program. A more logical explanation is that they didn’t want to risk their own jobs or careers. It was more self-preservation than it was program loyalty.
Penn State janitors who witnessed and discussed a similar event in 2000 flatly stated that the reason they didn’t report that event was out of fear for losing their jobs. In 1998 abundant evidence was presented to the county district attorney, who decided not to bring charges. We’ll never know, but a likely scenario is that he felt the personal political risks might be too high for him personally to press charges.
We could cite more examples, but a reasonable way to interpret all these decisions is that they were certainly more self-serving than they were a demonstration of caring and love for the victims, aged 7 to 15. Nor were the decisions made out of some patriotic loyalty to Penn State football.
Many members of our society have shown they are willing to take risks and regularly put their lives on the line for others. We see it every day among our troops, our police and fire fighters, and others who are paid to take these risks. Rarely today do we see ordinary citizens take even minor risks out of love, charity, and a commitment to serve others and the common good.
There is a saying, “no greater love hath man than to lay down his life for another.” This kind of love, which was once a hallmark of our culture, is disappearing from society. The Penn State example demonstrated its absence from top to bottom, from people in every walk of life, including laborers, blue collar, white- and new-collar workers and professionals. For more than a decade, many knew about former coach Sandusky and through their inaction let his predation continue.
If ordinary people can’t act appropriately in these horrific situations, how can we expect to find proper choices in the executive suite, political office, or among special interest groups? We all need to shoulder a higher level of responsibility to humankind. Only then can we expect the leaders who emerge from the masses to do the same. What would you have done? Really?
Lyles, a Poway resident, is an author and film producer. Reach him at email@example.com.
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