When Good People Do Nothing

The world for those of us who bleed blue and white has been turned upside down. No one could have predicted the nightmare of the last week that has befallen Penn State, that words like “honor”, “prestige” and “class” would be associated with “sex scandal” when thinking of Dear Old State. And those that could have foreseen this, that did see this, did nothing.

For the Nittany Lion’s football coach Joe Paterno it means the end of a 46-year career of record wins and molding young men and women into honorable adults. For the university it means a reputation scarred by the horrifying story of Jerry Sandusky, a true monster who allegedly sexually assaulted eight boys over the course of 15 years, and the cover-up that followed. For alumni and fans it’s a gut-wrenching, hollow, disorienting feeling of lost faith and confusion, an endless query of hows and whys.

For the victims it means justice, but justice that should have been served much, much sooner.

The horror engulfing Happy Valley shares a few parallels concerning moral obligations to one that recently unfolded in China, causing equal public outcry because people – good, decent people – stood idly by instead of preventing something terrible from happening.

On October 13, Wang Yue, a 2-year-old girl, was hit by a van and then run over by another on a narrow street in Foshan, south China’s Guangdong province. Between the two hit and runs, 18 people walked past the girl lying on the street. Not one of them stopped to help.

An old woman finally dragged the girl from the street and tried to find the child’s mother.

Wang eventually died of her wounds on October 21.

The death triggered a nationwide outcry about the lack of morality and trust in Chinese society. Why hadn’t at least one of the passersby tried to help the girl?

Communist Party officials and Chinese netizens blame the negligence and apathy of the drivers and passersby on the country’s economic development — the clash of traditional culture with money worshipping that seems to be possessing Chinese society as the people become more affluent. People care more about money and themselves than the well-being of others. Chinese educators have even proposed including courses on humanitarianism in school curriculums. Ultimately, it’s a social and legal issue more so than a moral one.

Distrust of the government, especially as numerous food scandals, poor air quality and an uncontrollable housing market plague the country, is ubiquitous among Chinese. Trust issues have trickled from the top all the way down to affect the relationship and dynamics between people at the grassroots level.

Probably the main reason the Chinese are wary of extending a helping hand is the absence of laws that protect Good Samaritans, particularly from extortion by those they help.

In 2006, an elderly woman in Nanjing, a city in east central China, successfully sued a man who had stopped to help her after she injured herself at a bus station. Despite inadequate evidence, the man was found guilty and ordered to pay $7,000 in compensation.

Prior to young Wang’s death in October, an 88-year-old man died after falling outside a vegetable market in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province. A crowd formed around the man but no one offered assistance. By the time he was rushed to a hospital – after family members were informed of the accident – the man had suffocated from a massive nosebleed.

In less extreme situations, I too have witnessed this bystander mentality. While sightseeing in Xi’an, central China, I stood petrified in front of a major tourist attraction as a man dragged a woman by her hair out of the queue, pushing her to the ground and yelling in her face. The rest of the people in line just stared. So did the security guards.

When people in China are often punished, not rewarded, for doing good deeds, I can’t blame them for failing to intervene. I can’t say the same for the men at Penn State.

Paterno and Penn State University President Graham Spanier sealed their fates in 2002 when they failed to take further action after learning about Sandusky’s atrocious deeds. Their ouster on November 9 is both unsurprising and necessary for the university to start pulling itself out of the hell it now finds itself in.

As a proud Nittany Lion, I’m shocked that the Paterno era at Penn State is over and even more upset that it unraveled this way. I’m livid with the media’s coverage of the scandal, how they’ve been fixated almost entirely on Paterno, vilifying the coach instead of focusing on the real culprit, Sandusky, and on Spanier’s role. But most of all I’m disgusted that men of integrity — men whose hands I shook — let us, the Penn State community, down. Men who stood by and did nothing while evil prevailed.

PHOTOS: I took these photos during Penn State’s 2007 homecoming game against Wisconsin. I’d never been that close to Joe Paterno, and I was still pretty far away on the sideline but thrilled nonetheless to at least be standing at his level on the field. I had a press pass to Beaver Stadium that day and was exploring the back corridors and hallways. While heading to the press conference area, I opened a door and there before me stood JoePa. I stepped aside, holding the door and giving him the “after you” arm swing. He just chuckled, thanked me and slowly walked through. I was surprised that he was alone — I’d expected an entourage of coaches or football players — but then again it was his “house”. It’s one of my fondest memories of Paterno, one I take pride in and one I will continue to share with friends in years to come.

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