Do the right thing
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
I met a man this week, and our conversation got me thinking. It inspired me to be more present and proactive.
This man has devoted his career to public service. As a young boy of 8 years old he had an “ah-ha” moment as he stood helpless in the middle of a violent situation. Two adult witnesses walked by the scene where a woman was being abused by her husband. The men kept walking, apparently more concerned about their own safety or about minding their own business than stepping in to help. Or perhaps they were just too cowardly to get involved.
So, instead of stopping, they quickened their pace and kept walking. It was that moment when this young boy decided that when he grew up, he would never stand by and watch that happen. He would protect people who couldn’t protect themselves. Justice and doing the right thing would be his core values.
In November 2012 I wrote a column about another extraordinary man who also served our community. The gentleman was Jeff Kuller, who lost his life in an accident.
I wrote: “The most poignant moment for me and my 'take-away' from the funeral service was when his father told of the lesson he imparted to his son when Jeff was a Boy Scout. Jeff’s dad started by telling us that there is a saying: 'Let George do it,' which perhaps comes from George Washington and the phrase 'passing the buck.' It basically means there is no need to get involved because if you stay on the sidelines, someone else will do the dirty work and get the job done. His lesson to Jeff was, 'be George' and the son took his dad’s words to heart and stepped up time and time again during his lifetime.”
Stepping up and doing the right thing is something that we should never take for granted. Society would be stronger if we heeded Jeff’s dad's advice to "be George." If we see an injustice, it is our responsibility to come forward and stop it. It is our duty to tell the authorities. It is only through vigilance and a community effort that societal justice can be served.
After all, Jerry Sandusky survived many years because no one had the courage to tell what they saw or share what they knew. The blame cannot be put just on the victims; rape victims will tell you that people don’t always listen or believe, and we’ve seen numerous times when victims get the tables turned on them. Plus, the intruder usually scares them with threats, sometimes concrete, sometimes veiled, about what will happen if you don’t keep this “dirty little secret." I have empathy for the victims. Not so for the witnesses, who bury their heads and hope somebody else will step up.
When we think about the witnesses and those in the know, who allowed Sandusky to hurt more and more children, it turns our collective stomachs. It was in 2002 that assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed an incident in the shower and told his superiors, who then had amnesia and denial for much of the next decade until the “hiding your head in the sand” mentality finally unraveled. It was great that McQueary came forward again (this time publicly), even if it was years and years after the fact, because it blew the lid off the case and children were saved, and the victims were allowed to begin the healing process.
It could be argued that witnesses to crimes and those who have direct knowledge (not hearsay or gossip) are complicit if they don’t come forward. If one incident has occurred, you could put dollars to doughnuts that there are other incidents lurking in the past, and more importantly, new ones that will occur in the future.
Longtime educator Joe Gauld teaches a principle he calls “Brother’s Keeper." Students, and parents, often have a hard time with this one. Most think it is tattling, but Gauld explains that Brother’s Keeper is a deep commitment in others to hold them to their best.
By expecting nothing but the best from your family, friends and community, you are showing your love for them. Anything less than expecting their best is cheating them, and enabling them. Rather than looking at this as butting in, Joe teaches that “intentional intrusion” is a better path than complacency, and if they don’t do the right thing, you will need to come forward and share the truth with the people who need to know.
I understand that most people are told to “mind their own business,” and the preference of everyday life is more often centered on harmony over truth. However, if we become more present and can analyze each situation for what it is, maybe we can create a better society.
It goes back to the old adage: we are either part of the solution, or part of the problem.
“It is not only the prisoners who grow coarse and hardened from corporal punishment, but those as well who perpetrate the act or are present to witness it.” — Anton Chekhov, short story writer and dramatist (1860-1904).
Restorative justice follow-up and redemption are also on my mind this week. Without rehashing last week, I wanted to reinforce the need for restorative justice. I heard a sad story this week about a young adolescent doing something stupid. This situation created a perfect opportunity for restorative justice to give both the youngster and his victim some closure. More importantly, it was a way to allow for greater learning and growth rather than seeing a teen charged with a crime. It was petty theft and the legal cost and the record that will now follow will not enhance society like restorative justice would. It will not provide a learning moment or social accountability that will make this teen a better person. This is an adolescent, who by all accounts, is a good and decent kid who did something dumb. But the victim would not agree to the restorative process, even after the young person surrendered to police. So traditional justice will prevail, and the court system will get another perpetrator to add to the logjam.
Justice might be served, but not this teenager, their future, or society. And in my opinion, not the victim either, who might find that it is more freeing to be “heard” by the perpetrator than to find solace in knowing they got punished and “what they deserved."
It’s sad because shouldn’t we be a society that cares about learning from our mistakes and second chances? Shouldn’t we believe in redemption and work to free ourselves of shame?
Turn the Page. Peace out, Reade
Reade Brower can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.