Monday, November 28, 2011

Scandalous Thinking


I hadn't planned to be writing about Bernie Fine, but the news broke last night that he would be fired, and as I drove to work past the SU campus this morning, I saw the satellite trucks parked there and knew that this is what people will be talking about all day, all week, and for a while after that. It's also my first day back with kids after the Thanksgiving break and I wonder how we will talk about the tragedy here. So, this morning, I'll write about what has happened and try to figure out where I want to stand on all of this.

I don't know Bernie Fine or any of the Syracuse Basketball staff. I simply live in the city where they all work, have followed the basketball team for years, and have now read some of the coverage of all this. After the Penn State debacle, Syracuse's problems are a bit more muted than they would have been otherwise, but still, there will be a lot of howling and talking to come. I suppose that someone will (if they haven't already) say that Fine is a monster, that Boeheim should have known, that the school covered it up, and so on. I'll let all that go and talk instead in the abstract for a moment.

Something terrible has happened. That much seems clear. And now a lot more bad stuff is going to come down. It will take a while before that calms down. I'm not in the mood to call for any kind of revenge. I'm not looking even for justice. I don't know what those things would even look like yet. They are all outside of me and beyond my control. Instead, I'm looking inward.

I feel sad about all of this. I have a feeling that I've lost another layer of innocence. It's like finding out again that there is no Santa Claus. I'm not a child, I don't believe that everyone is wonderful and perfect, but I like to believe in the essential goodness of people. I want to believe that, at heart, we are kind. This sort of thing is enough to shake that, but it might not be enough to knock it down.

When I think about what would make a man do this sort of thing, what would cause someone to hurt children in these ways, I come to the conclusion that this is a result of sickness much more than evil. When I consider things that way, I feel some hope. A sickness is a thing that happens rather than a choice. I just got through a sickness, a sinus infection. I hadn't chosen to be ill, it just came upon me. Still, there are choices to be made when one is sick and I made choices that I hope kept others from coming to harm. I wish that in these cases the people involved made different choices and I imagine that many, many people suffering from similar sicknesses are able to choose not to hurt anyone. They push it down, they seek help, they find ways to keep the sickness fenced in so that no one gets hurt. It doesn't seem as though Bernie Fine was able to do that. So it goes.

I've had many times in my life when the choices were clear. Choice A was clearly the right path, Choice B was folly. Most of my life I have chosen wisely, but there have been those moments when Choice B was too tempting, too easy, and provided a way out of misery. I've chosen the wrong path and each time two things have happened: I've come to regret what I've done because, more often than not, others have come to harm and I have also been able to live through and recover from the mistakes. The road out of sadness is a long one. There are quick fixes, but they are all Choice B options and they only pull me out of sadness for a moment, then they plunge me into the deeper darkness. The first rule of finding happiness is to know myself.

I don't know Bernie Fine, but hearing about his situation and trying to feel compassion gives me some hope for him, for the people who may have been victimized by him, and for myself. We get better. We survive. It takes awareness and a patience that is tough to muster in moments of misery.

Today, if my students and I talk about this at all, I'll ask them mistakes that they have made and how they have survived them. I'll ask them to consider themselves in a way that isn't selfish but instead helps them find some measure of compassion. I'm convinced that compassion is the only reaction to all of this that will make any of it any better.

Write on.