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?