Friday, November 18, 2011


As I sit here at my computer, reading about yet another college sports program being ravaged by accusations of sexual abuse, I am in stunned silence. Our justice system tells us that people are innocent until proven guilty, but these allegations mar the reputation of these programs regardless of the truth behind them. I find it hard to understand why anyone would make up stories like this and instead think that perhaps the bravery and boldness of the few who first spoke up has given courage to others who feel that their stories need to be shared.

As a father of boys, I have thought about the accused as "dirty old men." Once upon a time, that phrase seemed to be reserved for old men who made comments to females passing by, even their "dirtiness" may have been limited to some lewd looks, gestures, or remarks. These recent allegations move past intangible comments or gestures and delve into a new area. That's not to say that rude comments and gestures are innocuous, because they are just as capable of causing harm to the victims, but once the physical boundary is breached, the crime moves into a whole new realm.

It's hard to understand just how a person comes to the place where they think that this kind of behavior is appropriate. In my mind, there are two things that can lead to this: lack of accountability and abuse of power.

Regardless of how strong any of us thinks that we are, we need to be held accountable. When we lack accountability, we open ourselves up to all kinds of potential dangers. If we do not have people around us who can ask us difficult questions and call us out when we begin to do inappropriate things, the slope on which we may find ourselves will be slippery, at best. Accountability means that we submit ourselves to people whom we trust, people who have the potential for reaching down and pulling us out of any pit in which we might find ourselves.

Anyone who has found themselves in a position where people look up to them has most likely experienced the inner emotion that comes from that kind of power. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we have probably all wondered how much we could use (abuse?) the power which we have been given. This possession of power points back to accountability. If we find ourselves in positions of power, we absolutely need people who are looking out for us.

Regardless of your viewpoint of Billy Graham and his ideology, it's hard not to respect the man for the choices that he has made in his life. Early on in his ministry, he made the decision to never travel alone and never be found with a member of the opposite sex (other than his wife) alone. As one considers the life and ministry of Rev. Graham, he resembles Teflon in many ways, any allegations that may have come at him would simply "not stick" because of the accountability and structure that he had set up around him. That is wisdom.

It seems like a lot of allegations of these kind had been reserved for members of the clergy, both in the Catholic and Protestant churches. As the floodgates open and additional allegations surface, it seems that anyone is capable of this kind of behavior. Regardless of what position of leadership we find ourselves in, it is in our best interest to be held accountable. If we keep our behavior in check and have others who are watching us, any allegations that might be lobbed our way will hold less weight simply because we have covered ourselves with people to watch what we are doing.

We might look at the Penn State case and say, "What happened here?" Paterno claims to have confronted Sandusky on his actions, even going so far as taking it to a higher up official who did nothing. Who are the people that act in these positions for us? Do we trust that they will have our best interest in mind, regardless of the price that we might pay if we begin down the wrong road? Friends who are willing to hold us accountable are willing to do so even when it becomes difficult. If the relationship is strong enough, it will endure, even when we are confronted with difficult issues.

I learned a long time ago to never say never. While I could claim that I am incapable of the kind of behavior that has surfaced in recent days, I know that my environment can dictate much. Malcolm Gladwell wrote, "all of the results strongly suggest that our environment plays as big - if not bigger - a role as heredity in shaping personality and intelligence." Given the right (or wrong) circumstances, we may be capable of things that we did not think possible, yet another reason for accountability. While it might be an inconvenience for us to change things in our lives to incorporate this kind of accountability, I can guarantee that the inconvenience would be minor compared to finding ourselves in a place where we have done irreparable harm to ourselves and others. It's all a matter of perspective, and frankly, I would much rather a minor inconvenience that impacts me versus a major inconvenience (or worse) that impacts many others as well

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