Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where are the Good Samaritans?

Over this past weekend while great college football games were played around the country, a former defensive coach at Penn State was arrested on child abuse/sexual assault charges.  And as more and more details come out, a once revered football legend, Joe Paterno, and his entire football program, are being shown as men who did nothing in the face of facts and eyewitness accounts of abuse.  The details are horrifying to read and even harder to stomach.  A man who was allowed to continue on in his profession for years, all the while attacking innocent children, and all the while working with colleagues who knew about previous transgressions.

Is anyone innocent here?  Legally, yes.  Morally? That is an all-together different question.  I can maybe understand a person being so shocked by what they saw (a 28 yr. old graduate assistant witnessed an actual act of assault) and so intimidated by a powerful athletic program, that maybe your first course of action would be to go to the head coach (Joe Paterno) and tell him what you saw.  And being the head coach, maybe you would go to your athletic director first and expect him to take action.  Maybe everyone involved assumed someone else would take this to the police.  But what is inexcusable is when it became apparent that the matter was going to be swept under the rug, not one of the people who knew went to report it to the police.

Perhaps the bystander effect, also known as the Genovese syndrome, took over - a term that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present.  It was first named after Kitty Genovese, a woman who was murdered in 1964, in a neighborhood where bystanders and neighbors heard about the assault, but did nothing to help the victim.

The crazy thing is that just a week ago there was a high-profile murder case in DC about a young woman who worked at a Lululemon in Bethesda, MD was murdered by her coworker.  The case itself is gruesome and bizarre, but the truly horrific thing in my mind is that there were two Apple employees right next door, who HEARD the entire attack and did NOTHING.  A young 30 yr. old woman could still be alive today if those workers had picked up a phone and dialed 911.

In both of these instances - in the case of the Penn State football program and the murder of Jayna Murray - people failed.  Humanity failed.  They just looked the other way and did nothing.

Is there any hope?

In Christianity,  the basic tenet of the entire faith comes in Luke 10:27 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."  A Pharisee asks Jesus after this statement has been made, "Who is my neighbor?"  And Jesus goes on to relate a story in which an innocent man is attacked by a band of robbers and left on the side of the road for dead.  A priest walks by and moves to the other side of the road, ignoring the half-dead man.  A Levite, a person looked up to since he is from the tribe of Moses and Aaron, also ignores the beaten man.  It is only a Samaritan, the Jews' enemy (almost like a Palestinian, to put a modern spin on it), who stops and takes pity on the man and takes care of him, at a personal cost and sacrifice to himself.

And that is the rub - there is a cost and a sacrifice to being a Good Samaritan, to loving your neighbor.  I'm guessing for Joe Paterno, it was that a deep darkness would be exposed in his beloved football program he had devoted his entire life too, and the exposure of unthinkable horrors in a man he had trusted.  Maybe that cost was too much to go the extra mile and show courage and bravery on behalf of an innocent boy, who now, instead, forever bears the scars of his cowardice.  

My heart breaks for those innocent vulnerable children - and for a man who knows he should have acted differently.  My heart breaks for the family of Jayna Murray who will forever live with the pain of loss and knowledge of the brutal death their daughter suffered - and also for the Apple employees who now will forever live with the guilt of doing nothing and knowledge that perhaps they could have prevented a loss of human life.

Here is to hoping that instead of bystanders, more Good Samaritans will be found and stories will be reported of people stepping up to do the right thing, to love their neighbor, and protect them from harm.

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