Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

I'd already written the majority of a new entry--one that I liked a good bit, actually--but that entry needs to be relegated to the back burner, at least for the day.  This is a sad day.  This is a heartbreakingly sad ending to a heartbreakingly sad story.

Rest in peace, Joe Paterno.

My heart breaks for him.  I, frankly, cannot think of a worse way to die---and I'm not talking about cancer.  Imagine spending sixty-plus years dedicating your life to something you loved, something you believed in, something with which your identity was completely intertwined-- and losing it, abruptly and in scandal.  Imagine losing your will to live, and dying a broken person, in the public eye.    Imagine, really imagine, dying of a broken heart.  Imagine that happening to your parents, your grandparents, your children, and tell me that doesn't break YOUR heart.

I see some similarities between the death of Joe Paterno and the death of Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon.   I've carried the Charles Schulz Story for years.  For those who don't know the story, Charles Schulz in his sleep at home February 12, 2000.  His last original Peanuts strip was published the very next day, on Sunday, February 13, 2000, just hours after his death the night before.  His creation could not exist without him, and, as it turns out, he could not exist without it.  

Think about that for a second.  Most of us will end our careers with a retirement party.  Some of us joke about our jobs killing us.  Most of us will retire into the sunset, and will be replaced in the workplace with little fanfare, and will carry on with our second (or third) act. A select few, those whose career accomplishments have  touched the lives of millions, literally cannot live without their work.  Those are the people who are irreplaceable.  

Joe Paterno is irreplaceable. 

Joe Paterno's positive impact is immeasurable.

Joe Paterno's significant positive contributions are his legacy, and should be remembered as such.
This isn't the time or place to discuss the crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky, and it's certainly not the time for armchair philosophers to pontificate on what they would or would not have done if wearing Joe Paterno's shoes.  It's inappropriate, it's callous and it shows a complete lack of sensitivity for a man who most likely died of a broken heart.  Wrap your heads and your hearts around that one.

I recently read an article called "Bureaucracy, Loyalty and Truth" that was written by Eric Silver, a sociology professor, in direct response to the Penn State scandal.  I'd implore all of you to read this article--it was eye opening in ways that were uncomfortable, yet realistic.  The article discussed the statistical likelihood of people truly being whistleblowers, and how the concept of loyalty is a subtle underminer of morality.

Following are two quotes from the article that I cannot shake:

1.  "Everyone likes to think that they would be the whistleblower---they are the ones who would risk their job, their likelihood, their future.  Statistically, you're full of crap.  For every 1,000 people, you're lucky if there are two or three whistleblowers."

 2.  "You like to think of loyalty as a good thing.  Loyalty may be one of the most subtle undermining sources of morality there is.  Loyalty predisposes people to collusion. When a family member is in trouble, what's our first reaction?  We all know that family is about protecting its own."

Those quotes certainly make me think twice about self-righteous indignation and casting stones.  God knows that I've certainly played the "family protecting its own" card more than once. It's very easy and very convenient to think the world is least for everyone other than ourselves. A black and white world makes us sleep better at night, but that's not what we have.  It is a world colored in complicating shades of gray---for all of us.   

And, make no bones about it--- it's a very gray day.

Rest in peace, Joe Paterno.  You, your contributions and your impact will be sorely missed.  Your legacy will live on.

--Little Miss Sunshine


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