Personal morality and responsibility

11B40 asked a good question, which is why I’m so focused on McQueary, when it was Sandusky who committed the crime.  It’s because I have no fellow feeling with Sandusky who, if the allegations are true, is a perverted monster.  I therefore don’t need to analyze my behavior or parenting decisions with regard to his conduct.  McQueary, however, is Everyman.  Each of us could be in his shoes.

McQueary’s response to a horrible, unexpected situation wasn’t perverse or illegal.  Instead, it was just the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior that an ordinary human could commit.  I have within me the capacity to do exactly what he did — but I want to be better than that.  That’s why I’m also hammering away at columnists who explain what he did, not just to offer explanations, but also to excuse his conduct.  Like them, like all of us, I could be McQueary, but I don’t want to be McQueary.

Perhaps my obsession with this is also because I’m a parent in a morally challenging world, attempting to give my children moral lessons.  That hit home yesterday. As I hadn’t quite made it back to the house when my 12-year-old son got home from school, he called me, his voice trembling with unshed tears. “Mom, I have to tell you this. I need to confess. There was this old guy handing out little pocket Bibles at school [actually, next to the school, on non-school land]. Then, on the school bus home, one of the kids had candy and I wanted the candy and the kid said he’d give me the candy if I ripped up the Bible — and I did. Another boy threw a bunch of Bibles out the window.  I’m so sorry. I know what I did was wrong and I just had to tell you.”

When I got home, my son was still very upset, partially because he knew he’d done something wrong (both destroying a book and destroying a religious symbol) and partially because he was worried about getting expelled from school.  Without actually meaning to, I made him even more upset.  On my way back home after his call, I’d already called a friend whom I knew was taking her kids to a non-denominational youth night at the local church. I figured it would be good for my son immediately to go to a place where the book of God matters. When I mentioned I’d told her, he completely broke down, sobbing hysterically. “How could you? She won’t respect me any more.” (And I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that he realized that what he did would impair his standing in the eyes of the community.)

It got worse for my little guy when I opened my email and discovered an email from a friend and neighbor who didn’t know that my son had confessed, telling me about what happened and adding that several of the children on the bus were quite upset. “Oh, no! None of the parents will respect me anymore. This is horrible. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to destroy God’s property.” More sobbing. My son wrote our neighbor an abject apology for having committed an offensive act, and she sent a gracious reply.

I wasn’t pleased with what my son did, but I wasn’t angry at him.  It seemed to me that he was angry enough at himself.  He knew that he’d done an irresponsible and offensive act, although he did so foolishly and entirely without malice.  He also felt very keenly that what he had done might diminish him in the eyes of people he respects and whose respect he desires.

Indeed, I was quite pleased that he was upset and able to identify his own wrongdoing, rather than arrogant and dismissive.  He could have gone the other route:  “It’s just a book, and people who believe in it are stupid, and I should be able to rip up a book if I want, etc.”  That he didn’t, that he immediately realized he’d made a mistake, was a comforting reminder that my son is a fundamentally good person, who is simply a long way from maturity.  He is not, thank goodness, a punk or a sociopath.  A good (not angry or accusatory) talk about decency and respect, a total media blackout for two days, and a rather pleasant evening for him at a church youth group (he wants to go back) were, to my mind, entirely sufficient responses.

What was really interesting — and here we’re back at my whole obsession with McQueary and a society that passes the back and practices moral relativism — was the response from a liberal friend of mine.  Rather than acknowledging that my son had done something wrong, his ire was all focused on the old man who had handed out Bibles.

“That’s illegal.”  ”

No, it’s not.  He wasn’t on school property, and he wasn’t handing out anything that is illegal or that is prohibited to minors, such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or pornography.”

“Well, it ought to be illegal.  You can’t just hand out Bibles to people.”

“Um, actually, a little thing called the First Amendment says you can.”

He was shocked.

My friend’s next challenge was that handing out a Bible to school children was entrapment.

“That man was trying to entrap children.  He knew that most of them would throw it away and that boys would play with it.  There’s no difference between shredding it and throwing it in the garbage can.”

My friend was unconvinced when I pointed out that (a) the fact that many children on the bus were upset shows that treating a Bible with disrespect is not a natural or appropriate act and (b) that there is a difference between respectfully disposing of an unwanted item and deliberately destroying it in public view.  Intention matters.  And it was because intention matters that I was upset with my son for what he did, but I was neither angry nor perturbed.  His intentions weren’t blasphemous.  He just wanted candy.

Because issues such as this pop up in one form or another quite often when you have parents, you can see why I think long and hard about the messages we send our kids when it comes to right and wrong, and about responsibility to individuals and to society at large.

What do you all think, whether about my parenting decisions, about my McQueary tie-in, about societal messages, or anything else this post might have brought to mind?

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Comments

  1. Old Buckeye says

    Your son has a good mom who’s instilled the right kinds of values. He has a conscience that speaks to him eloquently. Let’s hope that kids like him become the next generation’s leaders.

  2. Mike Devx says

    Instilling personal morality (eg shame) into the children seems damn near impossible these days.  Used to be, the culture surrounding you as a parent would help you out!  Not true these days.  Kudos to you, Book.  You’re managing to do the near impossible!
     

  3. says

    Just finished Ursula Hegi’s novel Children and Fire. The protagonist, Telka, is a 4th grade teacher in 1934 Germany. She waited 10 years to get her teaching job, and is a very dedicated and excellent teacher. Tekla doesn’t like the Nazis, who she believes are just a flash in the pan and will soon be out of power, and she is not an anti-Semite.

    She is very concerned about one boy, Bruno, who is kind of the outsider in the class, and tries to persuade his parents that he’d get along better with the other kids if they would only let him join the Hitler Youth.

    Telka is a good person; her failing is that she doesn’t realize that things have changed and there are now issues in play compared with which the question of a kid getting along with his classmates is relatively unimportant.

    As I said in comments to this post, the pull of the ordinary is very strong in humans. 

  4. Oldflyer says

    Little to add to the first five, except good for you; and good for your son for realizing that he did wrong.
     
    One lesson, which you probably hammered home is how easy it is to go along with the crowd on the impulse of the moment, and how negative the action can be seen to be after reflection.
     
    Well, after having nothing to add, I find myself rambling on.  I don’t think I would be too comforting in his anguish.  If it isn’t too late, my stance would probably be along the lines of “I am not going to punish you, because we both know you were wrong, and I see that you are punishing yourself.  I know from my own experience that your personal shame will not be easily erased.  So live with it and learn.”
     
    PS  Your friend is an idiot.  Without some serious offsetting benefit I am not sure I would want to continue in a friendship with someone so divorced from basic concepts of right and wrong; and so willfully  ignorant of the values incorporated in the American constitution.  Clearly, your friend is not a LIBERAL in any real meaning of that word.  The thinking is closer to Despotic.

  5. 11B40 says

    Greetings:

    Hello, it’s me again!

    I don’t mean to begrudge you your concerns, standards, or preparations for dealing with pedophiles or their fellow travelers. My concern is that Mr. McQueary (and what a joy that name must have been during his school days) is becoming too much the focus as opposed to some prescriptive behavior that might be of future use.

    Many years ago, Mr. McQueary found himself somewhere between Johnny-on-the-Spot and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”. However “less than fully successful” we may find his actions, I don’t think that there is any doubt that he did do something to move the situation in a positive direction. When I apply a cost-benefit analysis to all those involved, Mr. McQueary’s seems to have the most cost and the least benefit.

    Earlier, I made a passing reference to the Duke lacrosse team incident. Just as a quick thought problem, suppose Mr. McQueary rescued the child and took him directly to the police and made a complaint only to wake up the next morning to find the police at his door to arrest him because Mr. Sandusky had, in turn, implicated Mr. McQeary as a co-perpetrator who became incensed when he had to wait his turn and so went to the police. What kind of pickle might that have left Mr. McQueary in, a year or two of even darker clouds overhead plus buckets of legal bills to deal with, perhaps?  Looking at what the falsely charged Duke lacrosse players went through, I have no urge to be them. 

    My concerns at this point are much more with the local criminal justice industry. I don’t seem to have much confidence that it is either willing or able to either investigate or resolve the situation. The perpetrator is out and about. I don’t see much in the media that officialdom is in its full tilt boogie to root out and bring to light every aspect of the situation. I don’t see much in the media about how to identify pedophiles or what NAMBLA is up to these days.

    Mr. McQueary has had much more than his fifteen minutes of infamy. I think that he would appreciate a bit of rest. Needless to say, child sexual abuse is an important problem. I just don’t see that harping on this individual is the way forward.

  6. says

    11B40, I think you are missing the point. McQueary FAILED to take immediate action and as a consequence a poor kid was key-holed by some filthy scum bag. It is important to analyze McQueary’s actions, or lack of, because responsible citizens are more likely to find themselves in his shoes rather than some pedophiles. He may appreciate a bit of rest but I’ll wager the victim would have appreciated it if McQueary had broken a chair over Sandusky’s back, or pulled a fire alarm, or yelled, or done almost anything other than slink away quietly. I personally would welcome being arrested the next day (in the scenario you suggest) if it meant saving a kid from some pedo’s predations. Harping on his inaction is the way forward if we expect individuals in our society to prevent incidents like this within their sphere of influence. It’s too late for any of us to save the victims involved in Sandusky’s case. Perhaps, if we loudly denounce McQueary’s inaction as intolerable, maybe next time someone else will save the day. As for me, the forces of evil do not get a free ride within my line of sight. 

  7. says

    Book, your story about the Bible reminded me of a passage in C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength. Mark, a sociology and an atheist, becomes associated with a group at Belbury which is supposedly dedicated to the use of science for social change. It soon becomes clear that Belbury represents evil on a very large scale, and Mark finds his very life (as well as his soul, in the author’s view if not his own) in jeopardy. He is put through an indoctrination program aimed at killing all “specifically human reactions” in a person…as part of this, his captors insist that he stamp on a crucifix done in a very realistic style. He knows that if he refuses to do this he will probably be killed. Mark was well aware of the rising danger. … As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way–neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image,though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to the crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight–what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross…. “Do you intend to go on with the training or not?” said Frost. His eye was on the time… Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him–had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have momentarily vanished. They had been a safeguard…they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said,  “It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing.”  

  8. says

    What do you all think, whether about my parenting decisions, about my McQueary tie-in, about societal messages, or anything else this post might have brought to mind?
     
    I would have taken a slightly different approach.
     
    Your son has admired military heroes and those who risk their life to do dangerous, fun, and lethal things in war. Ask him if he would admire that same beauty of an ideal if he found out they were taking cash, prostitutes, and sweet heart deals in return for giving secret information to the enemy so that they could more easily destroy America. Then I would ask him why he wouldn’t admire such a thing if he found out.
     
    And I would answer, because those who aspire to greatness and great goals, don’t have such a weak will that they can be bribed to do things someone else decided. Weaklings and slaves will do anything you tell them to, if you just give them money or threaten them. If that’s what he wants to be, that’s what he should keep doing.
     
    It doesn’t so much matter to me what he suffered in terms of decreased societal worth in other people’s view. What matters to me is that by accepting a bribe (candy) for an action he would normally not take, he rendered himself no higher than a slave told to do the bidding of the master. He decreased his own worth, in return for… what, some food? Some sweetness? Hey, if that was great, why don’t we all get money for killing and assassination, that should be a lot more fun. There’s plenty of people who’d want to get rid of folks they hate but don’t want to do the deed themselves. If he wishes to be nothing but a tool that his rich and powerful masters will use and discard, keep on doing what people tell you to do, irregardless of your own judgment. If you can be made to do whatever people tell you for a bribe, what makes you think people can’t get you to kill your family if they scare you enough? That kind of weakling self is worth absolutely nothing in the realm of heroic acts, because that is an example of trash. Do not take bribes not because you’ll piss off and make youself look bad in front of “other people”. Do not take bribes because doing so means other people have control of your will and actions, rendering you nothing but their tool. When the shiz hits the fan, it’ll be you they hang, not your masters giving the orders. That is What is Important.
     
    As for McQ, I said pretty much all I needed to on the previous post between 11B and Book.

    Those who are not the owners of themselves, will do whatever I or the state tell them to do. Simply look at the Obamanation as it is now, to see the reality of my words. If I ever decide to tear up some bibles missionaries give me, it will be my decision. I will take the consequences, good and bad, for it because I would have decided, FOR MYSELF, that this action was what I needed or wanted to take. Not because some sugar daddy out there offered “candy” or “cash” or “threats” for me to do so. If I’m going to be damned or killed or rewarded for something, it’d better well be because I deserved it, not because I was led into it by some weak arse desire for rewards or a fear of violence.

    Your son is feeling the logical conclusion of how he gets to suffer the negative consequences for something someone else decided they wanted to see, torn up bibles. They got entertainment. Your son got pregnant, and had to take care of the child. What did he expect? Those that lack self discipline and are swayed by short term rewards, will never achieve their long term goals of saving anyone.
     

  9. says

    I agree that there is some import in analyzing McQ’s circumstances and decisions. However, when too much time is given over, the real threat, the Left, starts doing superb damage control and will totally mess up the public debate with propaganda and disinformation, allowing them to cover for Sandusky and all those like him. So some analysis is appropriate, but eventually people got to stop talking and do something about it. And the Left, when given enough time, will not allow anyone to do a damned thing to help humans.

  10. Mike Devx says

    11B40 in #8 makes excellent points.

    Let me say, you do have to get that boy out of there.  But the terrible consequence of that is: Jerry Sandusky sees your face, and knows you’ve rescued the boy.  The stakes have been raised: Either you, McQueary, or he, Sandusky, is going down.  There is no other option.

    What if the boy won’t talk to the police?  Molesters are well known for threatening a boy’s family members/torturing a family dog, etc, if the boy talks.  McQueary’s got no way of knowing: He’s already shocked that this “family man” and “pillar of the community” is raping a boy.  What else is Sandusky capable of?  Anything?

    If you go to the police and the boy talks, you’re on some solid ground.

    If you go to the police, and perhaps the boy won’t talk, so it’s your word against Sandusky’s about what you saw, and who’s going to win that one?  It’s going to get VERY messy.

    If you don’t go to the police, after a few days, Sandusky realizes he’s safe, and he simply destroys you at Penn State and forces you to flee to restart your career somewhere else. And now you have an enemy that will forever see you as a threat, and who is likely to try to destroy your reputation at every opportunity.

    There’s no way McQueary could evaluate all of this instantly.  But some of it swirled through his head as he recognized that Sandusky’s power position made this a severe threat situation.  The worst is, he didn’t even rescue the boy; morally that part is a must.  But beyond that, it may be too harsh to condemn him for everything else.

    After rescuing the boy, and you deliberate, I think it does become clear what your best option is in this threat situation: You go to the police; you try to find out of Sandusky had made any threats; you reassure the boy that the horror is over; hopefully the police can get a full and clear statement from the boy.

    But a little humility in judging McQueary may be in order: At the moment he saw the rape occurring, his life is turned totally upside down.  Nothing will ever be the same, no matter what he does.

  11. Duchess of Austin says

    @ Mike Devx:  I agree with your points.  McQueary didn’t have time to think that much about it but what he did do is put the day of reckoning off for another 9 years, and by doing that he made the consequences for himself and everybody else (PS & Sandusky) exponentially worse with the passage of so much time.  Physical evidence was lost and the kids grew up.
     
    Maybe if he had broken the case open 9 years ago by yelling long and loud that Sandusky was a child rapist, he would have suffered some immediate consequences but there would be no death threats because 9 years ago stopping Sandusky might not have taken the entire Penn State football program, as well as Paterno, down with him.
     
    I agree that he probably saw his life, as he knew it then, pass before his eyes in an instant, but IMO he still made the wrong decision.  I suspect that things would have gone better for him if he had done the right thing.  Certainly he wouldn’t have to live with the fact that he is a moral coward for the rest of his life.  I should think that sort of peace of mind is worth something still….

  12. 11B40 says

    Greetings:  especially Americas 1stSgt at number 10

    Well. Bookworm may have gotten either or both me and this issue out of her system, but, apparently, I haven’t.

    One of the life lessons my favorite Platoon Sergeant taught me was what he referred to as “The Ambush Question: Are they five or are they 500?” His explication went like this, if they are five, your squad has done its ambush duty; if they are 500, your squad has done its duty in a most unfortunate way.”  

    At the extreme, both McQueary and the rape victim could have ended up dead.  The nobility of that death would not be much solace. 

    I have no problem with discussing prescriptive behaviors for dealing with such situations. My distress is the focus and harping on Mr. Queary. He was the “Man in the Arena” and if he failed us, so be it. But just as there is nothing he can do to un-do the past, the is an almost zero chance of his getting another “at bat”.  Give him a bit of peace.

  13. Gringo says

    Lib: “Well, it ought to be illegal.  You can’t just hand out Bibles to people.”
    Book: “Um, actually, a little thing called the First Amendment says you can.”
     
    Good rejoinder. The lib could also be reminded that not only is handing out Bibles illegal in many Muslim countries, the mere POSSESSION of a Bible in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a crime. Bibles are confiscated at point of entry.
     
    Passing out Bibles on the street was illegal in the Soviet Union.
     
    Are those countries the  models Lib wants us to follow?
     
    Book, good story and good job as a parent. You didn’t suddenly become a good parent with this story. You laid the groundwork by previously discussing- not imposing by executive fiat- your ideas on ethics and morality. Judging by your son’s thoughts on what he did on the bus to that Bible,  he had not been rolling his eyes at your discussions-a common response if an adult overdoes it – but had been incorporating what you have been saying and DOING  into his own thoughts on how to lead a good life. That he came to discuss the matter with you shows that you have earned your son’s trust. Not all parents can say that.

  14. says

    I think there was a good chance that Penn State had allies that were gong to gun for and protect Sand. Like the former Communist infiltrators of the Catholic Church, it wasn’t just a few people spread out around. It was an entire organization dedicated to predation, furthering Soviet ideals, and protecting the predators.

  15. Leah says

    You are a great mom and it shows in your son.  We all do stupid things because of peer pressure – your son has a conscience and you handled the situation very well. I’m glad he felt guilt, I’m glad he apologized. The best thing is that he enjoyed the Church activity.
    Growing up in hard, these kind of lessons hurt – he will be a much better person for this and he knows it.

    Good for you!

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