Thursday, January 26, 2012

TWIOT: The Beauty of Grey - Paterno and Legacy

This is not a black and white world
To be alive, I say the colors must swirl
And I believe that maybe today
We will all get to appreciate
The beauty of grey

How should this man be remembered?
Photo Credit: Eurweb
Joe Paterno did a very bad thing, or more specifically, he didn't do a very good thing. Inaction often times leads to worse consequences than actually doing a terrible thing. Not to take any gravity away from Jerry Sandusky or the heinous crime he stands accused of, but a monster often times is able to carry on his sadistic and outrageous crimes only with the help of men like Paterno who do nothing or even worse, with the active abetting of other men like Graham Spanier and Tim Curley covering his actions up.

Joe Paterno was also a decent human being with all other things considered. Let's forget the fact that he was a great college football coach; men like Bobby Bowden and Nick Saban were or are also great football coaches, but their characters were called into question all the time (for things that make the crime Paterno stands accused of seem like child's play, to be completely fair). Coaching football has nothing to do with the person one is. It was his stance on civil rights, his philanthropy and his presence in the community that made him someone to admire for reasons other than his prowess calling Xs and Os on the sideline.

It is entirely possible for a man to have both great and loathsome qualities about him. It seems to be the meme, however, that either someone should eulogize the man for being this great pillar of morality or that they should condemn him for his silence in allowing several young boys have their innocence absolutely obliterated by a monster of a man, and there's no way anyone should get peanut butter in the other's chocolate (and vice versa). Whatever happened to nuance, to hearing a whole story, to shades of grey?

In life, it's very rare that someone is completely evil or completely saintly. The closest we've come in the last 100 years to my reckoning has been Adolf Hitler, whose atrocities have made any eulogies of him equivalent to anathema. Other than that, who has led a life worthy of only scorn? Is there anyone who led a life worthy of nothing but praise even? As quoted to start this entry from Live's "Beauty of Grey" (off their 1991 album Mental Jewelry), this is not a black and white world. We need to appreciate that people aren't one- or two-dimensional automatons built for good or evil, but that we're all human beings. Some of us have more good qualities, some have more bad, and all of us are going to project one side of ourselves to others more strongly, whether that's fair or not. IF one were to tell a victim of Sandusky's criminal sexual abuse that they should appreciate Paterno for his charity work or if one were to tell a survivor of childhood cancer who was the beneficiary of the THON charity that Paterno donated to generously that he deserved nothing but vilification, obviously that person would be met with incredulity in both cases to say the least. But for the rest of us? Yeah, a little bit of perspective goes a long way.

Extreme reactions in most cases are almost never the right reactions. I think we're seeing that now to an extreme, with those supporting Paterno seeming almost cultish and religious in their absurd devotion and selective deafness regarding anything negative and those who are against him taking up the makeup of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob ready to tear to shreds any positive memory that people might have of the man. Excuse me if I think both crowds seem silly. Then again, the man just died, and time has not allowed people to settle down in their fervor. If we're still divided into camps with extreme blinders on in a year or so, then I'll be disappointed. The sad thing is I won't be surprised though. In a culture where political discourse takes on an extremism-or-die approach, it's not a total shock that the tone of Paterno's memorial has taken this divisive profile.

Still, I do believe that maybe not today, but some day, we will all get to appreciate the beauty of grey, and when that happens, this country will be a far better place.