Acting on What we See

The stories coming out Penn State University are horrible. They infuriate us and well they should. These alleged actions are unspeakably horrendous and the failure of so many individuals to step forward is inexcusable. Our focus should, as has been said, be on the victims and on committing ourselves without question to fulfilling the Torah’s command that “we not hide our eyes” from what we see especially when what we see is harming children. This was the general tenor of my sermon on the subject this past Shabbat and the sermon will be up on our website soon.

But, I found a piece  in the New York Times this morning thought-provoking and challenging. In his op-ed piece, David Brooks writes that it is not as easy as it seems that it should be for people to commit themselves to being better than the people we are condemning in this situation. Brooks asserts that there are many natural tendencies that result in people not acting on what they see. I don’t read his piece- as justifying any of these tendencies or making excuses for them but merely stating that they exist and that this isn’t as simple as saying: “If I had seen it…”

I admire him for writing this essay. There is no way to justify the actions of those who didn’t stop or didn’t sufficiently report the alleged abuse. But, Brooks’ call for us not to feel so superior is a serious call to listen to. We all like to think that had we known, had we seen, we would have done what others didn’t. But, would we really have done so?

Occasionally, when I watch a tv show or a movie that I have seen many times before, I find myself switching the channel when something bad is about to happen, when there is an act of violence or a character I’ve grown to know is about to do something disappointing.  That’s cause for thought because sometimes  we do this in real life. Sometimes, we really don’t want to see.

I  believe without question that those who looked the other way at Penn State did not do their job as human beings and we need to stress that clearly and they deserve the strongest criticism.  But,  upon thinking a bit more, I do believe that opening our eyes and acting on what we see may be a harder job than we think sometimes. Still, that’s no excuse. We were created as human beings to do what needs to be done, no matter how difficult it may be.

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