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penn state university
jerry sandusky
mike mcqueary
farewell season
troubled children
group dynamics
janitor
do the right thing
The Psychology Of Doing Nothing: Making Sense Of The Inactions Of Penn State University
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The Psychology Of Doing Nothing: Making Sense Of the Inactions Of Penn State University

It may never be completely understood, the tragedy that has befallen Penn State University. A beloved, legendary coach, long the face of more than just the football team has been fired during what was likely to be his farewell season anyway. A slew of college officials, including the school's president have also been fired and there are probably a few firings yet to be done before the month is out. At the heart of it all, under the rhetoric, the riots and the outrage are boys that were abused at the hands of a man they trusted, admired and liked. A man who made himself into a monster and has changed their lives forever. That man is facing as many as forty charges right now and more are likely to be added, but for all the seriousness and sickness of those charges, for all the outpouring of feelings for the victims, one thought is uniting people across the nation: how did so many people manage to do nothing for so long?

The charges stem back as far as 1999. For many of the years since then, Jerry Sandusky has been part of a charitable foundation called Second Mile, where he worked closely with troubled children. People now wonder how many more victims will arise, how many of the boys from that program were attacked by the man they thought was going to help them. Had Mike McQueary, the man who witnessed a violent rape in the showers pushed the issue, would Sandusky have had more time to abuse children? A janitor at Penn State witnessed another attack; could the same be said for him? And, how could these men have done nothing when confronted with something this horrific?

According to psychologists, the cause can be explained by group dynamics. In large groups, people may assume that others will do the right thing, letting them off the hook from doing so. In certain types of groups, the actions of one member might be punished by the group itself as it seeks to self regulate internal behavior. But, in other groups, groups that are based on a close knit, almost fraternal bond, the urge is not to punish but to protect, to cover up the instances of wrong doing because the "norms and values" established by that group is more important that those of the general public.

Finally, psychologists believe that some level of denial played into the inaction of many of the men involved in the scandal. It might have been hard to put what is being seen into an accepted context. The mind cannot believe what the eyes are seeing, so it files the thought away for later processing.


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