By: Andy Weir
You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”
And I sent you on your way.
Do societies need deviance to survive? Common sense tells us they do not. Everyone knows that the world would be a much better place if people would just follow the rules and do what’s expected of them. There would be no crime, no fighting, no misunderstandings. Life would be great, like being on an all expenses paid, happy vacation together. Right?
But what if common sense is wrong? Not only wrong, but completely backward? What if deviance is as necessary for the survival of society as food is for the survival of the human body?
Well over 100 years ago, one of the founding fathers of sociology, Emile Durkheim, set out to discover the purpose of deviance in society. And his discoveries were so deviant that people had a hard time accepting them. And they still do! Which is why Durkheim’s views of deviance have been pretty much ignored by sociologists for over 100 years.
A Deviant Discovery
Durkheim was a firm believer in observation. So he began his study of deviance by observing as many societies as he could. He studied his own, those in neighboring European countries, and even those of the ancient past. What did he notice? They all had deviance! It didn’t matter where or when he looked. In every society there was something that got defined as deviant, and someone who did that deviant thing. The pattern was striking, and also puzzling. If deviance was such a bad thing, why was it so common?
Durkheim knew (from his contemporary, Charles Darwin) that for a body part or organ to exist in a species, like a long beak or wings or gills, it must be useful for the survival of that species. If the beak or wing or gill were harmful then members of the species who had that body part would fail to thrive and would eventually die out.
This made Durkheim wonder: Was deviance like a beak or wing or gill? If it existed in all known societies did this mean it was somehow needed for the society’s survival?
If deviance was necessary, the implications were startling. It meant that deviance was, as he put it, “a factor in public health, an integral part of all healthy societies,” and not a pathology to be eliminated at all costs. But how could this be?
Remember, just like today, most people in the late 1800s (when Durkheim lived) believed that deviance hurt society, like cancer or a virus hurts a healthy body. To imagine it was more like a vital organ seemed counterintuitive, and very deviant. Durkheim had to think it through carefully.
A Society of Saints
Durkheim began to imagine what society would be like if there was no deviance in it whatsoever. And after trying for some time he found he couldn’t. Here’s how he saw it. For deviance to disappear every single person would have to behave themselves all the time. And for this to happen every single person would have to feel equally and powerfully opposed to doing deviant acts. If anyone wavered, even for a moment, deviance would pop right back into existence.
Where could Durkheim find a deviance-free society? What about in a group of really good and righteous people, like in a monastery? Would deviance exist there? Or would it merely change form?
Durkheim predicted that in a society of monks (or what he called “saints”), deviance would not disappear. Instead, little things such as being too loud or eating too much or failing to clean ones room would stand out and eventually get defined by the “saints” as “deviant.” In other words, with nothing more serious to compare to, minor deviations would suddenly seem more troubling, and eventually they would cause the same intensity of disgust that more serious acts of deviance cause among regular people. This idea became known as the “society of saints thesis.”
After thinking about it some more, Durkheim felt certain that in a society where crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, and theft no longer occurred, minor deviations such as rudeness or lying or calling in sick to work when you’re not really sick would start to seem way more serious to people. So much so that some of these acts would become defined as deviant, maybe even criminal.
Using the language of his time, here’s how Durkheim put it:
“If [the urge to punish] grew stronger, to the point of silencing in all consciousnesses the inclination which disposes man to steal, he will become more sensitive to offenses, which until then, touched him but lightly”
Robbery and murder, therefore, shared something important in common with less serious offenses, such as rudeness and lying: Both violated the social rule that people should be considerate of others. As long as robberies still occurred, Durkheim explained, people would be inclined to view rudeness as less of a problem. After all, it’s way better to be offended by someone’s poor manners or lied to than it is to be robbed!
But, if people’s revulsion toward robbery grew so strong that robbery was completely eliminated, people would immediately begin to become more sensitive to lesser violations of the norm of considerateness toward others. Without serious offenses such as robbery to compare to, Durkheim believed, people would react against lesser offenses, such as rudeness and lying, with the same disgust they previously felt toward robbery, making those lesser offenses – the ones that had previously “touched them but lightly” - feel more like acts worthy of serious punishment.
To illustrate his idea, Durkheim painted the following picture:
“Imagine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes will there be unknown; but faults which appear tolerable to the layman will create there the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousness. If, then, the society of saints has the power to judge and punish, it will define these lesser acts as criminal and will treat them as such.”
So, according to Durkheim, there is something about human nature and the nature of groups that causes people to draw boundaries, or lines in the sand, making some things deviant and some things not. And because of this is a deviance-free society cannot exist.
Adding to the human tendency to draw boundaries is the fact that people are different. Differences in family backgrounds, heredity, and social experiences make it impossible for everyone to agree on what is deviant and what is not. In other words, individual differences in social experiences create differences in values. As a result there will always be someone who does something that the rest of the group considers deviant. The specifics of what gets defined as deviant may change and vary across time and place, but according to Durkheim, there will always be something that is considered deviant and someone who is inclined to do that thing.
A Deviant View of Deviance
Once he convinced himself that deviance had to exist, Durkheim turned his attention to figuring out why. His answer was that without deviance society would be incapable of adapting and changing. How did he reach this conclusion? Durkheim turned to Darwin for inspiration.
Darwin had observed that plants and animals survive in nature because they are able to adapt to changes in their environment, including climate change and competition from other creatures. If they didn’t adapt they didn’t survive. Darwin suggested that one way plants and animals adapted was by “mutating,” which means producing an unexpected difference, like a new physical characteristic or behavior, that turns out to be advantageous for the species’ survival. Mutation was a kind of biological deviance that helped the species survive. Was the same true for groups and societies? Did they too need mutations (or deviants) to help them adapt to changing conditions so that they could survive?
It seemed clear to Durkheim that the answer was yes. For a society to adapt, it must produce a small but consistent flow of people who are willing to experiment with new ways of living, thinking, and behaving. In other words, it must produce a steady flow of deviants. If the norms of a society were so rigidly enforced as to eliminate all deviance (think of the society of saints thesis), then such experimentation would cease to occur, and the society would be incapable of change. Its attitudes toward such things as women, racial minorities, tattoos, divorce, etc., would be frozen in time, unable to evolve or change because there would be no one willing to push the boundaries and point the way toward other, better ways of living. Durkheim summarized this observation by writing:
“Every pattern is an obstacle to new patterns, to the extent that the first pattern is inflexible. The authority which the moral consciousness enjoys must not be excessive; otherwise no one would dare to criticize it, and it would too easily congeal into an unchangeable form.”
The more he thought about it the more sense this idea made to him, and examples from history started popping into his head left and right.
Take Socrates. According to Athenian law, Socrates was a criminal. The crime for which he was put to death was the independence of his thought, a crime that ultimately enhanced humanity, as well as his country by ushering in needed change. Socrates brought into awareness a new morality and faith in reason, which the Athenians needed, since the ideas they were living by no longer were in harmony with modern times. The freedom of thought we enjoy and take for granted today might not have emerged when it did if Socrates wasn’t willing to deviate from the laws of his country.
The same can be said for Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence on our beliefs about racial equality, for Susan B. Anthony’s influence on our belies about women’s rights, and for Galileo’s influence on our beliefs about science. Socrates, King, and Galileo were deviants. The violated the prevailing norms in their societies. And their deviant behaviors ushered in much needed reforms. Without their deviance the world might have been a very different, and arguably worse place for the rest of us to live in.
Conclusion: No Deviance Means No Innovation Means No Social Change
Based on Durkheim’s insights, we can no longer view deviance as an unwanted, parasitic, destructive force in society. Instead, we must from here forward recognize that deviance may be necessary for the survival of society, and that the deviant might have an important role to play in social life. We shouldn’t start popping champagne corks if rates of deviant behavior were suddenly to drop to zero. According to Durkheim, a zero or near-zero rate of deviance would be a sure sign of trouble to come. While it might mean less murder and robbery it would also mean less innovation and social change. Here's how Durkheim put it:
“In order that the originality of the idealist whose dreams transcend his century may find expression, it is necessary that the originality of the criminal, who is below the level of his time, shall also be possible. One does not occur without the other.”
In other words, if a society managed to eliminate all deviance, it would also eliminate all innovation. If Durkheim is correct, then, in the realm of human behavior, we’ve got to learn to take the good with the bad. The more we try to rid ourselves of unwanted deviance (e.g., crime) by reducing people’s freedoms and controlling and punishing their behavior the more we may also be suppressing the positive, innovative deviance that society needs to adapt and survive in the long run. In other words, if you are for freedom and innovation in society then you must also be for a certain amount of deviance.
Eric Silver, Founder
NonJudgment Day Project
(This summary is based on Emile Durkheim’s groundbreaking book, The Rules of Sociological Method, published in the late 1800s.)
What's the difference?
Does it really matter?
Is my deviance a cause for chatter?
If my actions clearly
Cause no harm
Does it matter if they break the norm?
And what's a norm
But a handy fable,
To tar someone with a nasty label?
And if the norm's
To hurt the others
Does one then get to have his druthers?
Must suffer loss
Like Jesus hanging on the cross
Don't care, you see
RE: Deviance and Normalcy
There are, of course
The ones who do
They'll try to throw the book at you
Crimes and sins--
Someone loses, someone wins
As some sit
In the Ivory Tower
And serve the whims of those in power
And learned professors
Say which is greater, which is lesser
Which is better
Which is worse
Which the blessing, which the curse.
Which helps the few
Is "innovative, fresh and new"
That helps you and me
Is treason, nonsense, heresy
I leave you
With this final thought
Is it deviance if you don't get caught?
Michael Rizzo, Seattle WA
A Guide To Cognitive Resonance
"My brain is only a receiver. In this universe there is a core from which we gain knowledge, inspiration, and strength. I have not penetrated into its secrets, but I know it is there" -Nikola Tesla
We live in cognitive bondage. Adapted to heavy chains of defensive judgment. Convinced that they are needed for protection from others. Reacting to snap unconscious impulses without even realizing we are doing it. We have traded the ability to co-exist and see from other perspectives, for the protection of cynicism. We run others through a filter, always finding something to judge. We criticize in others that which we refuse to recognize in ourselves. We have been seduced into self-loathing by generations of exposure to a consumer culture. We have been trained to believe that who we are is flawed and “not good enough.” Fear of judgment fuels our insecurities, and drives anger into the center of every interaction where it simmers far below the surface until finally boiling over.
The Pedestrian Versus The Driver
There is a commonly occurring situation especially in metropolitan cities, which is rarely discussed. When behind the wheel of a car people automatically feel an immense frustration towards the pedestrians who don't consider your rush in their slow lumbering pace. But as soon as the driver is walking around on foot, there is a switch. The frustration is now directed to drivers who inconsiderately rush you across the street. Two conflicting ideas existing simultaneously in the same person “pedestrians should be faster and ”drivers should be more patient.” The same person is occupying both sides of the same conflict only at different times. Most of the time he or she will not even be aware of the cognitive dissonance inherent in this ritualized pattern.
If I yell at someone crossing the street I am placing the burden of my anger onto them. They can choose to throw it back at me and shout obscenities, which just makes me more angry. Or they can choose to carry it around until they unload it onto another individual later on. Thus does anger flow through the capillaries of the social body. To break the pattern, try to empathize with yourself from the past position in the cycle. Consider the ways in which you would've liked the pedestrians to consider your rush. Then when in the car try and remember the importance of having patience for those crossing the street. Both sides of the duality are capable of recognizing the point at which their different perspectives unite, despite their apparent opposition. They are capable of achieving cognitive resonance.
Cognitive resonance occurs when two conflicting beliefs are resolved through mutual recognition of the common source underlying cycles of conflict. The desire to love and be loved alongside the fear of being unloved, sit at the foundation of all cognition. We can choose to fight over the superficial disagreements that seem to separate us, or we can consciously resonate with our similarities by recognizing ourselves in the other and forgiving our differences. Because in fact the urge to divide over our differences is what we have in common.
How do you achieve cognitive resonance?
The first step is to become aware Be willing to see your own hostility, envy, competitiveness, etc., without becoming mired in self-hate. Do not blame yourself for carrying these feelings, they are not some unique flaw in you, they are shared by all.
The second step is to stop. Be willing to carefully observe your emotional responses to other people’s words and actions and see that you have the power to choose a different perception of why you feel the way you do. Much of what we react to in other people consists of unacknowledged parts of ourselves. Stopping enables you to perceive the way in which another’s personality mirrors your own. It interrupts the automatic process of judgment.
The third step is to recognize. Recognize that all conflicts originate in unmet needs. The specific needs may differ, but the needing is the same. When two individuals with unmet needs come together without recognizing the mirror image of their needing there is sure to be conflict.
The payoff of being aware, stopping, and recognizing is cognitive resonance. Having recognized the core of similarity at the root conflict, you can gradually allow your guard to drop and your empathy to flow. Allow yourself to resonate with the experience of the other, no matter what that experience is.
If you forget something important and are criticized by others, what do you feel? Automatically you tense up and can’t stop thinking about the ways in which you are flawed. You become flooded with guilt and shame. If someone forgets something important and inconveniences you, how do you react? You’ll automatically tense up and think about the ways in which they are flawed. This locks you into a loop where guilt and shame are followed by the urge to inflict guilt and shame, which creates even more guilt and shame.
Become aware of the pattern. Observe your responses. See if you can prevent them from influencing your actions. Repressing anger or guilt or shame doesn’t stop the cycle, it only builds up the pressure of pent up emotion that may explode at any time. The insecure ego gains more control over decision making with every turn of the cycle. It drives us into hopeless vortices of despair. The first step - becoming aware - is the hardest because it requires depriving the ego of control. But if you become aware of your ego you will gain an opportunity to take back your free will.
As you become aware of the inner dialogues that exist just below the surface of your thoughts, things start to become frustrating. You realize that you are used to judging, and that it feels uncomfortable when you try to stop. At this point it will help to take a deep breath and close your eyes. Listen to the critical voices speaking incessantly to you and allow them to settle into a state of rest. Just focus on taking deep breaths. It takes time and practice to learn how to observe your thoughts, but you will eventually master the art of stopping in this way.
It is at this point that most people get stuck. Our interpretations of life and people as negative or threatening can prevent us from relaxing our minds even for a second. We feel that if we do we will be harmed or consumed. Feelings of insecurity create doubt and fear, which become our constant companions in a threatening, lonely world.
Remember that fear that prevents you from reaching peace, and that all fear is shared fear. By extending your awareness and stopping the negative responses, you can begin consciously to create new thought patterns that cater to your deeper desire for unity, instead of catering to the guarded and divisive desires of the ego. Over and over, allow your body and mind to relax so that you can gradually learn to shed shame, fear, and judgment.
As stopping becomes more familiar, you will notice previously painful emotions beginning to soften and dissipate. They are slowly being replaced by the freedom of inner spaciousness and peace. Each time you drop your guard, even for a moment, you glimpse and transcend the core of unconscious negativity that keeps you separate from others. As this ability grows you can take the next step, which is to recognize the existence of a common core of hurt and fear beneath the unconscious negativity in human experience. You are now on the path to becoming a healer of pain in the world.
The differences we fight over are small and superficial compared to the experiences we share in common. Underneath every word, poem, symbol, song, and painting there is a feeling. “I will see you tomorrow” is a mundane everyday phrase until you look more closely. “I” a sense of self and individuality, a feeling of presence. “Will” a declaration to take action within the shared conception of a future. “See” to observe and take in awareness of external presences internally. “You” distinguishing the difference between the self and the other. “Tomorrow” a shared mental construct pertaining to the passage of time. Together, these words express a sort of oath, a conveyance that one self is parting from the presence of another for a measured passage of time.
At the core of all communication lies a struggle to harmonize our differences. Allowing the ego and its fearful insecurities to stop opens a space for harmony to exist. This recognition is not easy to maintain, especially if you’ve already become convinced that fearing others is the only safe option. You’ve been taught by experience that fear is a boundary, not a bridge. It takes immense courage to recognize the connective power of fear. It takes even more courage to drop your guard and seize that connection as an opportunity to harmonize. Once you are able to connect to others through the shared experience of fear, and the shared defense of ego, you can learn to create love and acceptance at every turn.
What I mean by love is not the cultural cliché of hearts and flowers, though these are beautiful symbols. I am talking about the core feeling that inspired these symbols: The shared feeling of harmony and oneness between two consciousnesses. Over time the feelings behind our words and symbols become lost beneath layers of culture and habitual repetition. Love is the paradoxical experience of recognizing yourself in another unique being, and of seeing the depth of similarity that underlies all differences.
We are all in love with one another. Our fights and wars but lovers quarrels. We can use those fights as justification for future hostility and resentment, thereby creating a spiral of hate and intolerance towards one another. Or we can use our disagreements to rediscover what we share in common, to grow and see from another perspective, which it turns out, through love, is our own perspective too. This is when the point of resonance between people is reached: When a shared reality comes into awareness precisely because of the deeper understanding of difference.
By allowing cognitive resonance to grow within us, our natural urges for compromise, empathy, understanding, and forgiveness arise, expanding our sense of self. Yet we must not try to force this experience on others. For love through force is impossible. All we need to do is find our own way to the point of resonance – the shared root of conflict - and the rest will take care of itself.
Expect to meet the impatience of ego here, and be willing to trade it for the experience of surrender. Let go of your unconscious impulses and you will open to the ecstasy of surrendering your ego. Instead of clashing over different interpretations, try to understand that every interpretation is a unique view of the same underlying reality. We hurt one another and try to force each other into submission, but that isn't the way love works. Let the other be and allow them to choose to grow at their own pace, while forgiving their missteps along the way. Do the same for yourself. This can be done by providing kindness and forgiveness through empathy. In this way growth comes naturally.
When you try this approach you realize that it can take a long for love to cross the bridge into another person’s consciousness. There are so many barriers to break down and so many wounds to heal. It can take even longer for love to become their motivation. Patience is important here. Attempting to motivate others through fear or manipulation only leads to growth through disfiguration. Best to lead by being, and to allow others to choose to change within their own time frame. Rest assured, your love for their underlying being and your forgiveness of their mistakes in expressing it will inevitably lead them to realize that they also love you.
We aren't beyond hope, we are just out of balance. A culture pervaded by greed and self-satisfaction has taken hold of the world. Our learned disabilities prevent us from connecting with one another. By converting judgment to nonjudgment through cognitive resonance, we can learn to move beyond these cycles of mutual judgment and fear. We can enter the calmness at the eye of the storm that stands between conflicting opposites. Here compromise and mutual trust can become the norm instead of the exception. Empathy and understanding can replace ego and fear. Everyday brings another opportunity to face down our fear, our shame, and our anger and through awareness, stopping, and recognizing, to learn to resonate with one another.
If we can’t face the dark we can’t aim the light.
Brandon Kim, Penn State Class of 2012
Eric Silver, Doctor of Society
In Our Rush to Get the Outcome Right, Did We Get the Process Wrong?
In the final scene of the movie Jaws, the great white shark is attacking the boat. Its head is on deck, and the boat is rapidly taking on water. All looks lost until someone throws an oxygen tank into the shark’s mouth. In the next scene the oxygen tank explodes and the shark is defeated.
In the media shark feed that followed the issuing of the grand jury report describing Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, were Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier the oxygen tank?
Just after the grand jury report was released, it was announced that two Penn State administrators, Gary Shultz and Tim Curly, were accused of perjury during their Grand Jury hearings.
Graham Spanier’s reaction to these accusations was to announce that the University would hire counsel for these administrators. His specific statements was this:
“The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance. With regard to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz operate at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and compassion. I am confident the record will show that these charges are groundless and that they conducted themselves professionally and appropriately.”
It was a moment for leadership, and Dr. Spanier was going to lead by standing by his people and allowing the justice process to unfold.
The media’s (and therefore, the public’s) reaction to Spanier’s statement was to vilify him as a secretive leader hell bent on a cover up. “How could he even think of hiring counsel to defend his employees when victims had been abused?”
The same man who only days before would have been ranked by many as among the most talented University Presidents of his era, suddenly was being depicted as at best incompetent and at worse immoral.
Such turn-on-a-dime shifts in our impressions ought to give us pause. But when the shark is on the boat, who has time for such subtleties?
Now that the shark has been fed and it seems more or less clear that the boat will not be capsized, I’d like to do something unpopular. I’d like to think out loud about Graham Spanier’s road not taken.
I am a professor of Sociology and Crime, Law, and Justice, and I teach a class on the Sociology of Deviance. So I spend a lot of time thinking about deviance, morality, and justice.
And I must admit that when I first heard Dr. Spanier announce that he was hiring counsel to defend his accused employees, Shultz and Curly, I thought to myself, “good, let’s let the justice process play out here and see what went wrong and who is responsible.”
Maybe I’ve spent too many years in the Ivory Tower, but I believe in due process, and I felt thankful that we had a justice system we could turn to in this high-stakes and emotionally charged circumstance – and a leader willing to make use of it.
A day or so after Spanier’s announcement, after it became clear to Spanier that the Board of Trustees had a more conciliatory leadership plan in mind, one that was NOT based on due process, Spanier resigned. And on that same day the Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno (without benefit of due process).
It is easy to understand why the Board did what it did. The great white was champing at the boat and the Board needed something with a lot of TNT to throw in its mouth.
As we all know, the Board’s TNT didn’t succeed in stopping the media feeding frenzy. Though maybe it did keep the boat from capsizing.
Either way I can’t help but wonder: What happened to due process? And without it, what message did the Board’s actions send? Did the public interpret the firing of Joe Paterno and the resignation of Graham Spanier as admissions of guilt by the University?
Due process is the fundamental moral principle that underlies our justice system. It’s based on the notion that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. Due process exists to make sure that the accused gets a fair trial and that punishments are not meted out based on public opinion, hearsay, or mass hysteria.
And here’s the trick y part: Because it protects people from false accusation, due process must always risk being insensitive to victims. It asks victims to be patient while all the facts are aired, and their accusations along with the accused’s responses are considered from all angles, so that the most just outcome can be achieved. It asks the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are known.
And yet, when Graham Spanier decided to hire counsel for his employees – a due process move - and when Joe Paterno announced that he would finish out his last season before retiring – each believing that they had done nothing criminal and that the justice process would bear that out – both were vilified by the media and lynched by the public.
Sandusky’s crimes had touched a chord so disturbing that our collective ability to think clearly about the nature of justice was obliterated.
So much for due process.
In the end – when the justice process surrounding the Penn State scandal finally plays out - with the cases of Shultz and Curly - we may decide that the Board got the outcome right and that the careers and legacies of Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier deserved to be destroyed.
But what if Shultz and Curly are found innocent of perjury and cover-up? What then? What will we make of the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions? And what about the firing of Joe Paterno and the loss of Graham Spanier?
Unfortunately, up until now, the only two entities out there who have been willing to critique the process by which the scandal was handled are the Paterno family and Graham Spanier. And because they both have something to gain by influencing how people see things, their arguments are easy to dismiss. And because I’m a Penn State employee, maybe mine are too.
It seems to me that Spanier and Paterno were tried and convicted in the media (including the Freeh Report) for allegedly covering up Sandusk’y crimes in order to avoid bad press for the University. But isn’t it also true that these two individuals were dumped by the University’s Board of Trustees - without benefit of due process - in order to avoid bad press for the University? How can one seem so wrong and the other so right?
My point is not that we ought to be indifferent to child sexual abuse or any crimes for that matter. My point is that before we mete out punishment on the basis of accusations, and regardless of how serious those accusations are, we need to have due process. Without it we live in a frightening world where people are guilty until proven innocent.
This is especially worrisome as Penn State begins shoring up its reporting procedures in order to make sure that something like this never happens again.
Whether or not we got the outcome right, one thing seems crystal clear to me: we got the process wrong. We are all against child sexual abuse and we are all against engaging in cover-ups. But in our rush to be against these things did it make sense to cut short the justice process?
And so I’m left wondering, what exactly is the lesson here? If we want people to do the right thing for the right reasons without fear of negative publicity; if we want to live in a society where people are innocent until proven guilty; then were Paterno and Spanier treated in ways that will encourage or discourage people from doing the right thing for the right reasons in the future?
In a just society the surest way to get the outcome right is to get the process right. It’s not a guarantee but it’s the best way we know. And in this case I can’t help but ask: In our rush to get the outcome right, did we get the process wrong?
Doctor of Society
Did you feel the shift?
The Freeh Report depicted our leaders as untrustworthy and shook our faith in Penn State. For us, one side effect of reading the report was the feeling that we as a community had little to be proud of and we deserved to be punished. The report suggested there was something profoundly wrong with the ‘Penn State Culture.’ It felt like we were all somehow culpable. The bonds of trust and goodness that held us together were unraveling. The shiny red apple of Penn State was suddenly rotten at the core.
Of course we felt sorrow for the victims. And we felt horrified that the leaders we knew and trusted might have enabled Sandusky’s crimes. But most of all we felt confused. For as long as we could remember we had been proclaiming to the world that, “We are Penn State.” But now that Penn State was tarnished beyond repair, what were we?
For those of us who have never had the experience of being judged on the basis of our group membership this is a very difficult question to answer.
Then just when we thought things couldn’t get worse the statue came down. A symbol representing all that was good in us was gone, and we wondered how we would ever move forward.
Then the NCAA sanctions were announced and in a matter of days things felt different. The Penn State community seemed to go from feeling fractured and deflated to feeling wronged and mistreated. The emotional tide had turned. Many felt the sanctions went too far. They harmed the innocent. They punished those who had nothing to do with Sandusky’s crimes. And it just wasn’t right.
Walking down College Ave we could see the change in spirit reflected in the new t-shirt designs; ‘PSU Forever’, ‘We Are…One School’, ‘We Are…Pissed Off’, ‘We Are…Committed’. We could also see this new spirit in the signs in store windows with messages like ‘One Team’ and ‘Proud Supporter of Penn State Football’ and many others.
In a matter days “We” began to be reborn. Saved by that most unlikely but inspiring of heroes: Underdog.
When Eric was a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s people had to make a choice. You were either a Yankees fan or a Mets fan. It didn't matter your race, your gender, your age, or what you did for a living. You choose a team and that was that.
The Yankees were the well paid, winning super-team. The Mets were the underpaid team that struggled and often lost. To root for the Yankees was to root for the sure thing; the powerhouse. You expected them to win and they did.
Rooting for the Mets was like rooting for, well…the Mets. They were underdogs. You and everyone else expected them to lose so when they won it was an absolutely incredible experience. Sticking with them while they were down was even more incredible. The Mets didn’t deliver that winning experience often, but as a fan you got a lot of opportunity to show loyalty and heart, and to support a team that was working hard to beat the odds; a team that was determined to go out there and do their best every time – to show the world what they were made of.
Fans of both the powerhouse Yankees AND the underdog Mets were completely rabid, devoted, and fanatic about their teams, which was very cool…and very good news for Penn State!
As we see it, Penn State is now a kind of underdog, not just because of the NCAA sanctions, but also because of the stigma that is now attached to our university and its leadership. Losing some players; eliminated from bowl games; and having our reputation tarnished by the Sandusky scandal, we now have some things to prove and some critics to silence.
At Penn State, students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and fans are used to being on top. For years we’ve been a powerhouse and it’s felt great. Now we are about to embark on The Underdog Experience, which we think can be equally great, though in a different way.
Whether we win or lose, and regardless of how long it takes us to rebuild the good name of our university, we will all now have the chance to experience a sense of the battle, of having something to prove. It’s a vibe that can bring a lump to your throat on game day or while cruising the t-shirt shops on College Ave. It’s a feeling that can cause incredible things to happen. And we say bring it on!
Or, in the words of Underdog himself (spoken in the 1964 animated TV series):
When help is needed I’m not slow
It’s hip hip hop and away I go!
Welcome back Penn State. And get ready. It’s time for us to show the world who WE really ARE.
Eric and Stacy Silver
Doctors of Society
Today I was fascinated by a facebook exchange in response to the following scenario…
‘Sometimes, people REALLY get to me, and it's hard not to be judgmental. I stopped at the store to grab one thing. In front of me was a couple speaking rapidly in a foreign language I could not identify (wasn't English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, or Latin.) When it came time to pay, the wife was struggling with the correct pin numbers for her EBT (foodstamp) card. The husband seemed agitated and was yelling at her. In the meantime, he opens a pack of gum, pulls out a piece, and throws both wrappers on the floor. Ugh. So, they come out. Aren't they getting into a 2010 AUDI? (Yes I checked the registration for the model year, casually, as I went by to return my cart.) Then I got into my 1997 Altima with my one item that I paid for, in cash, at $4.99. ...SIGH’
What might you have thought in this situation? What might you have posted?
This exchange elicited 29 comments in about 15 minutes! I am not kidding. This is WAY more than the average cute kid picture or photo of a vacation, a nice cocktail, or someone’s remodeling project that usually fills my fb page (I know – it’s pitiful). I know that ‘the poor’, the possibly ‘undeserving’ poor, and ‘the government’ are popular topics for debate and ranting, but that’s not what really interested me about this.
What I noticed first about my friend’s post was that it began with ‘it’s hard not to be judgmental’ and followed this with a stream of judgments: about the couple’s use of a foreign language, about the man yelling and dropping his gum wrappers, and finally about the expensive car they arrived in while also appearing to receive foodstamps.
Yes, it’s really hard not to be judgmental. I get it. I struggle all the time with my judgments of others, myself. But I think it’s really important to be less judgmental, for reasons I will explain.
Blip, blip, blip on my facebook – a stream of negative judgments about that couple: they were welfare cheats robbing us ‘good, tax-paying people’ of our tax dollars, maybe they were grifters, or a pimp and prostitute, or at least ‘irritating’. (I’m not making this up). WHAT?? In 1 second, this couple was completely condemned – ‘tarred and feathered’, ‘up the creek without a paddle’ and ‘lambasted’. Wow. I was shocked and intrigued by the spectacle. It was an invitation to judge. A judge-o-rama. They also made judgy comments about each other’s posts. To be fair, there were about 3 non-judging comments suggesting that since we don’t know anything about them, it’s pointless to speculate.
So that was one thing – how quickly this foodstamp-using, gum chewing, littering
(if he dropped the wrappers on purpose) couple was convicted based on literally no information about their financial situation except that they used a foodstamps card and apparently got to the store in a fancy car. And I wondered ‘why all the judgments, really?’ But I don’t know yet.
The other thing that caught my interest was that all the judging comments were ANGRY. This fits with my experience of judging others: judging others makes me feel angry toward the person I’m judging. Or superior, or defensive but you boil all those down and there is anger in them. I’m not really sure why it makes me feel angry but it does.
I notice that when I judge someone else for doing whatever they do, or being whatever they are, I feel angry at them and a lot of drama gets stirred up in my body and soul. It happened as I watched the facebook exchange. They weren’t even my words but I could FEEL THE DRAMA being whipped up by all the speculation, accusations, and defenses. It was like the judging, negative words had energy and I could feel it. Like that shaky feeling you get when a cop pulls you over. It didn’t feel good.
In contrast, the posts that said ‘we don’t know anything about them so this is pointless’ felt very calm. The judging words felt very red and big and jangling. The non-judging words felt very blue and still and silent. Not like they were trying to pick a fight with you. Now, I’m not afraid of being angry. I get angry. I will open up a can of whup-ass when necessary, but in a case where I know nothing about the person or the situation, why would I do that?
And I guess that’s my message: Judging others makes me feel bad. In my mind, body, and soul. It puts up walls between me and the person I’m judging who is usually someone in my life I really care about and maybe say I ‘love’. Not only does it hurt me but it hurts our relationship because as long as I am judging them I can’t deal with them. And they can tell. We can’t relate in a relaxed, regular way and it takes a while for me to decide to stop the judgment or for it to slip away. While I’m waiting for that to happen, the relationship is on hold and I am feeling bad.
I feel a lot better and enjoy the people I love more when I can say ‘I really don’t know anything about this so judging it is pointless’.
Penn State Professor
The NonJudgment Day blog is an open, community space for sharing ideas, experiences, and insights related to (non)judgment. Submit to NJDProject@gmail.com