To judge a man's character by only one of its manifestations is like judging the sea by a jugful of its water. Paul Eldridge
If you write about leadership, there are times when events almost force you to take the time to say something. After reading the wide range of opinions and articles on the death of Joe Paterno, I think this is one of those times for me.
Let me also say that, if your comment to this blog is that Paterno somehow “deserved” his fate, be aware that this is not the conversation I’m trying to have here. While I felt that his actions were inexcusable and that he had forever changed his legacy with his decisions regarding the Jerry Sandusky debacle, I am also grieved that this was actually the way the story ended. In our society, we are all free to have our opinions and to make those clear no matter how unpopular. But, in our society, we are also all granted the right to defend ourselves and try to provide some kind of explanation, even if unacceptable to the masses.
But as I read the comments on various news sites and blogs, I can’t help but wonder how many of those who are so vicious, have any basis of righteousness for their judgment? Are there really that many blameless people out there who can sit in such a comfortable moral throne that they can honestly say Paterno’s life’s work was worth nothing? Seriously?
The problem is, if I begin to list the positive impact Joe Paterno had on the lives of hundreds of students who came in contact with him, I will also somehow be branded as minimizing child molestation. For the record, I have two young teenage children and am as outraged (and frightened) as anybody about the reports from Penn State over the last few months and the activities there over the last few years.
It will be a long time before we are able to consider Paterno’s life work in any kind of balanced manner, if we are ever able to do so. But in his death, we have the opportunity to reflect on the fact that none of us…NONE OF US…are as clean of guilt as we would like to be. We like our leaders to be perfect and are always surprised when they are not. In some ways, this is inevitable and comes with the territory.
At the same time, as a human who suffered through his final weeks with both cancer and incrimination, isn’t it possible we could afford him, and his family and loved ones, a little grace in the end?