Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Child abuse scandals: the importance of curiosity and courage

An article in today's NYTimes Sunday Review does the best job of analyzing the silence surrounding pedophilia that I have ever seen. Here is the link:

It is striking that the writer has been able, in retrospect, to assess his own silence, understand it, and judge it. Most people do not appear to have that sort of moral commitment to self-examination and to truth. The degree to which misdoing --alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual predation, cruelty of all sorts--is allowed to continue in plain sight boggles the mind, and yet it is part and parcel of our sinful human condition. Although the writer doesn't name it as sin, he sees this ckearly.

After the crimes of the former "legendary" football coach at Brooklyn Poly Prep were very belatedly exposed, one of the author's contemporaries wrote, “I am heartbroken that I lacked the wits and guts to comprehend what was happening to classmates, friends, and the guys that followed me.”

The author of the article continues:

"...there is little doubt that senior administrators were told about the abuse on multiple occasions. The lawsuit recounts specific meetings between boys, their parents, the headmaster and the athletic director. That athletic director, who went on to become dean of students and assistant headmaster, reportedly witnessed abuse in the showers and walked away. In 1991, the headmaster allegedly told one of the victims that Coach was a bitter, sick old man who should be left alone. Coach Phil was powerful, intimidating, successful, not to be trifled with. And so for a quarter-century, he freely abused vulnerable boys, virtually in plain sight.
"What should we [the students] have done? We should have told our parents and teachers and other school officials that Coach was hanging out by the showers and it made us feel weird. Maybe we should have reached out to the boys who were riding off in the Impala and warned them away. We were just kids, of course, but in retrospect our lack of curiosity, our lack of action and our lack of courage were inexcusable." (italics added)
The linking of curiosity with courage ("wits and guts") is an important insight. It is heartbreaking to see a child's curiosity stifled: "Shhh.... we don't talk about that." Not only is curiosity indispensable to intellectual development, it is morally indispensable in conditions such as those we have seen in the church, at Penn State, and at Poly Prep. And not just in cases of child abuse, either; a little healthy curiosity might have led to the exposure of Bernie Madoff before it was too late, and Goldman Sachs and Abu Ghraib....take it from there. Whistle-blowing takes both curiosity and courage, for many craven souls are ready to punish the person who seeks to uncover the truth.