May 24, 2013
Written by Joe Pisani
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 09:20
All of us have suffered regret at one time or another. The tragedy is that by the time we start asking ourselves what we should have done differently, it’s too late.
“I wish I had done more,” Joe Paterno said when he announced his retirement over a sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, involving his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with abusing eight boys over 15-years.
Paterno’s regret could be the epitaph for all of us — the good, the bad and the indifferent — because no matter how principled we think we are or how much integrity others think we have, occasions arise that test whether we practice what we preach, and the tests can be insidious.
The people who talk the most about doing what’s right or tell others how to live their lives — and I put myself at the top of the list — are often the ones who don’t respond as vigorously as they should.
Even heroes and legends like Paterno can fail miserably, and a lifetime of achievement is quickly forgotten. Consider Cardinal Bernard Law, the leader of the Boston archdiocese for 18 years, who had to resign in 2002 after the priest sex abuse scandal led to his being named in hundreds of lawsuits for not protecting children from pedophile priests.
Doing the right thing is never easy, and sometimes it can require bringing down people and institutions we love, whether it’s a church, a university or a long-time colleague. We usually know what the right thing to do is, but we can end up making excuses and justifications for doing the wrong thing, doing nothing, or like Paterno, not doing more.
Sometimes we don’t “do more” because of fear — fear of scandal, fear of retribution, fear of betraying a friend, or just plain fear of standing up to the system and authority. Fear can easily disorient our moral compass.
How many who worked in parishes saw abuse and did nothing? How many tried to do something but confronted a conspiracy of silence and institutional pressure to cover up the crime? Sad to say, that culture exists not only in churches and colleges but also in corporations, government and political parties.
In the sex abuse scandal that shook the church, there were many moral people like Paterno who should have done more but didn’t. There were many who should have done something but did nothing. Equally tragic, there were those who denied the abuse existed, largely because of misplaced loyalty like that at Penn State, which led to rioting in support of Paterno.
That example should be seared on our consciences for when each of us is put to the test and has to confront a situation that requires doing the right thing at a personal cost.
The hardest choice in any circumstance is resisting pressure to look the other way. Looking the other way is endemic in our society, where the system can destroy an individual who tries to do the right thing. But succumbing to that pressure can lead to a life of regret.
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