Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's because it wasn't what we wanted to hear

My friend Devin shared a site of links to the Jerry Sandusky case, along with a commentary.

If you don't know what is going on with Jerry Sandusky, catch up here. There are a string of articles under Top Stories.

In short, from one article:
Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period, and Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of an allegation of one assault of a young boy in 2002.

I read through the commentary and I heard the exact feelings any sane, feeling person would have: bewildered, angry, judgmental, and worse.

My husband I just went through a class called "Safeguarding God's Children." It was our second go-round, and it hadn't changed a bit in the intervening years. It's part of the training and certification the church requires in order for you to participate in children's activities now, such as go on field trips, attend class parties, etc. Only the church requires this of parents of students and we all know why.

You'd think the training would at least make a pretense of being about overall child welfare, but it doesn't. It is unashamedly specifically about child sexual abuse. It is unabashedly about teaching adults to watch for signs and how to report it. It teaches by sucking your soul out through your mouth by way of videos from predators, parents of victims and the victims themselves.

You are left sitting in a room with people who cannot look one another in the eye for at least a week afterwards. Statistics say odds are someone in that room was abused or know someone who was, and worse, that possibly someone was a predator.

The instructor was clear: you do know it when you see it, and you should never talk yourself out of it. It's not your choice to make, to decide whether it is or isn't something or whether someone should do something. What you do is report it and let experts figure it out.

There are a lot of scare stories about "false allegations" that "ruin lives."

I can tell you I know at least five families who have been investigated and I guarantee most people never knew. How did I know? Because each of them told me.

They were all innocent, proved so, and resumed life as normal after dealing with what happened. In the end, as angry and scared as it made them, each confided to me that on some level, they'd rather these things be taken seriously and investigated.

But I bet for each of those five families there were 20 people who should have been investigated and were not.

Why not?

It's because it wasn't what we wanted to hear.

I was just listening to Joan Didion talk about being a parent --well, and, a person really -- and how this one time she was line editing her daughter Quintana's writing and was completely missing the pain and anxiety her daughter was expressing. She did eventually realize her daughter wasn't writing sunshine and roses, but she said that all the while her daughter was borderline personality with severe depression and so forth, she was also very amusing.

"And amusing is what I could relate to," Didion said.

She went on to say that we are so bounded by what we expect and can relate to that sometimes we tune out what is really being said to us.

It's a sort of listening block.

I think it's also an empathic failure: we don't want what is, to be. And so we tune it out and tune into what appeals to us. It leaves us, often, confused and befuddled by what seems to be a sudden action on the part of someone we know. But also, we like to please those we care about, and so we can be very good at putting on the right show, or enough of it, to maintain the myth.

Also, ramifications can be very scary. Worse in our minds, usually.

But also, we inherently know that nobody likes a whistle blower.

The kid who made everyone recognize the emperor wore no clothes never had a statue made in his honor. In fact, we don't rally know what happened to him because all the news reported was some kid yelling and then attention switched back to the emperor and the canny, con artist tailors.

We need to be cautious about where we fixate our attention. It's easy to look only at the thing that inspires our first, fastest and most familiar emotion: anger. It's easy to fixate on accused, the perpetrator, the guilty. It's easier to sit in place as judge and jury.

It's much, much harder to sit in the place of the victim.

That's if we can process and believe, that is. Most of the time we can't, because it's not what we expected to hear. It's not what we wanted to hear. It wasn't what worked for us. It was not what we could relate to.

And so...we tune out. We minimize. We rationalize.

"It didn't seem like that big of a deal." "It didn't seem like anything criminal."

It's because it wasn't what we wanted to hear. Somebody had a good thing going and didn't want to disrupt that.

I get it. It's not easy to be the disrupter. It easy to be the Monday morning quarterback, pun intended. Of course, from over here, from now, it seems obvious what should have been done.

We need to know how, though. The one thing that was most useful in the training class we had to take was the lessons about how to confront.

I'm watching. I see.

I'm looking at and listening to the vulnerable. The victims.

Best protections. Ever.


Emily said...

I just wrote a very similar post. Thank you.

Magpie said...


StarTraci said...

It is so true! Didion's words are striking. I am sure that I have heard what I wanted to hear before. I am taking this as a lesson to remember to hear the truth not the pretty cover.
Well said, as always.

Courtney said...

"I am looking at and listening to the vulnerable..." one of the most important things we can do. Thank you for this insightful and important post.