Vanity And Atrocity: 'How Could They Let This Happen?'

Vanity And Atrocity: 'How Could They Let This Happen?'

"First comes the atrocity, then came the vanity."


"First comes the atrocity, then came the vanity."

This week, I'm writing a meditation on David Brooks's "Let's All Feel Superior," a 2011 NYTimes column about the vanity of commentators following the news of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The vanity Brooks describes is a sort of indignation and outcry in which people make assumptions of how they would have intervened or done a lot better if they were involved in the situation. With regards to Sandusky, many commentators put themselves in head coach Joe Paterno's shoes, and have a general attitude that "they would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults."

But most people don't intervene, especially during the worst mankind has seen. The Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide are two examples noted by Brooks. The lack of intervention in the face of atrocity may happen for a variety of reasons. When horror happens, many suffer from the normalcy bias, in which when people find themselves in a horrifyingly unsettling situation, "they shut down and pretend everything is normal." People also suffer from motivated blindness, a subconscious effort for people to not see things in their best interest to see. For example, machines tracked the eye movements of people shown pictures of sexual imagery, and subjects who were more uncomfortable with sex skipped over looking at uncomfortable sexual imagery.

Brooks even cites one psychological study at Penn State itself about people's tendency to not intervene when they consciously know something is offensive. A 1999 study asked students whether they would say something if someone else made sexist comments around them. Half of the participants said they would, but when the researchers arranged for someone to say a sexist comment in their presence, only 16% of people said something. In psychology, this is the bystander effect, and is amplified if more and more people are around. In the most egregious and well-known case of the bystander effect, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, with 38 witnesses watching who did nothing.

What lies behind this, however, is self-deception. "We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don't. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do," a universal blind spot in the human condition.

Moral systems are built to acknowledge this lapse in hypocrisy. Christianity, for example, believes that each person is a sinner, and that none are righteous. "Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside." These moral systems, from religions to philosophies, "gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it."

Now, however, Brooks argues that our society today has changed drastically from the days of the Puritans. "We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it." In the case of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, the culture of college football was often that target. People often look for change, whether in law or in culture, to prevent anything as atrocious from happening again, yet history often repeats itself over and over. Commentators constantly cast blame on everyone involved in the Jerry Sandusky scandal "from the island of their own innocence."

"Everyone gets to proudly ask: 'How could they have let this happen?'"

At the very end of the article, Brooks redirects the question inwards to "how can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive?" I'm relatively certain that a few years from today, we may look back at atrocities happening in Yemen or in Myanmar today and ask "how did we let this happen?" We asked the question after many scandals in our own country, especially with regards to the events that led up to the Great Recession. However, we have trouble asking it an always do, because "the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature."

Scrolling through the comments, the majority were of scathing nature towards Brooks for what was perceived as excusing coaches like Paterno or Mike McQueary, who could have stopped sexual assaults with a single 911 call. These very comments and mindset prove Brooks's point. We love to be on a moral high horse because it soothes our vanity and distracts us from our own moral and ethical failings in our own lives.

I rarely agree with David Brooks and his politics, but in this case, I do. He may be wrong and I may be very wrong about the human condition, but look no further than a column published the same day by Joe Nocera, titled "Penn State's Long Road Back." Nocera details five steps Penn State had to take to reckon with their moral road back, and ends the article saying "the path to restoring [Penn State's] values is clear. The question is whether Penn State has the moral spine to choose it."

Similarly, Nocera was condemned in the comments section of this article for sitting on his moral high ground and vanity. Even if Nocera were right and his ideas were the best course of actions, the holier-than-thou superiority complex exhibited in the piece is condescending to a fault. In an ideal world, we can condemn and do our best to act on the atrocity without the vanity.

Personally, I have taken a huge step back from the villifying high horse I used to be on. I have learned that the human condition means everyone is capable of anything, no matter how good or how bad. I choose, in my articles, to build people up instead of condemning them for their mistakes. Frankly, a large part of this is because I can see myself being in the same situation as people I used to condemn for inaction or poor decision making. I am not in their arena. None of us are, and in the meantime, just reserving our condemnation and judgment is imperative.

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The 10 Most Important Things You Need To Know About Relationships

Without communication, there is no relationship; without respect, there is no love; and without trust, there is no reason to continue.

When you see an old couple holding hands or sharing romantic kisses while sitting on a park bench, doesn't that spark warm feelings of love and happiness in your heart? Doesn't it make you think about how they maintained their relationship for so many years when couples you know have trouble making it past six months? And of course, some people are not made for each other and so their relationship just simply doesn't work. But then there are couples who give up the minute an obstacle comes along, which makes you think their relationship wasn't truly important to them in the first place. What everyone has to understand in order to preserve a strong, happy, and prosperous relationship is that love is colorful, and the same kind of love doesn't exist for everyone. Being in a loving relationship that continues to thrive, I'm going to share some of the few things that I believe should exist between two lovers who want to sustain their prosperous relationship.

1. Communication

Communicating with your partner is essential. I'm sure you've heard it before, but communication is key. If something is bothering you or what your partner wants to do isn't what you're interested in, say something! Neither you nor your partner are mind readers, so how are they supposed to know how you feel if you keep your feelings bottled up inside? Not speaking up and communicating your ideas, feelings, desires, and wants is unhealthy because one day you might blow up and say some things you'll either regret or feel sorry for saying. Communicate to find a middle ground in your relationship because it's unfair for one person to constantly accommodate the other. Relationships cannot grow without communication, so don't be afraid to speak your mind and embrace your thoughts.

2. Trust and Honesty

A relationship cannot continue without trust and honesty. By being honest with your partner, they have no reason to doubt you or not trust you. Trust is vital in a strong and successful relationship because you don't want to think twice about what your partner says or does. Almost anything can be acceptable in a relationship as long as you're honest with your partner. Being in a relationship doesn't mean that everything else in your life has to change. You can still see your friends, go out, and be your own person, but be honest with your partner with whatever you do because by hiding something from them, you might be giving them the perfect reason not to trust you.

3. Forgiveness

No relationship is perfect. That's because none of us are perfect. People make mistakes in everyday life in the same way that people make mistakes in relationships. Of course, there are some things that are unforgivable, such as cheating on your partner (at least in my eyes), because it means that your relationship didn't mean much to you anyway. But, most things can be forgiven. Forgiveness is extremely important and necessary in a relationship because we have to accept and be reminded that we aren't perfect. So if I bailed on you because something important came up or you had a bad day at work and said some things to me that should have been directed at someone else out of anger, it's okay. Sometimes all it takes is a simple I'm sorry and I forgive you.

4. Respect and Appreciation

Without respect and appreciation, there is no love. How can you disrespect the one you love and care for? Exactly: it's hard to find an answer. Respect is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Respect your partner by choosing your words carefully, honoring boundaries, being willing to compromise, showing consideration, and protecting your partner. Make sure you're being respected by knowing your worth, acting honorably, setting and upholding boundaries, being a man or woman of your word, and showing respect for yourself. Appreciate your partner for who they are, the things they do for you, the support they give you, and the growth that they contribute in building your own identity.

5. Emotional Support

Real men don't cry is a load of bullshit. I have been blessed to be surrounded by a few strong and courageous men in my life who I've seen shed a tear or cry when losing a loved one or simply out of pure happiness. We all have emotions and though we try to hold them in check, those emotions sometimes boil over. In relationships, it's important to show emotional support for your partner, regardless if they are a man or a woman. So when your partner is going through a tough time or is struggling for whatever the reason might be, stray away from the pathetic Be A Man go-to phrase and be their shoulder to lean on. If your partner knows that you're emotionally there for them, they might have an easier time opening up to you in the future.

6. Humor

Sharing laughs and smiles with the one you love is extremely important. After all, being in a relationship is sharing your life with someone you care for, cherish, and have fun with. Being able to joke around and laugh with one another is extremely healthy for your well-being and the relationship. It's not just about fun and games, but it's also no fun to be so serious and stern about everything. Keep your relationship alive with some humor, adventure, and daily laughs to see the smile of your loved one!

7. The Magic of Small Things

The small things in life are actually not that small. There are times where the smallest deed can make someone the happiest and that's usually because the small things are the most thoughtful ones. Preparing breakfast when your partner is too tired or surprising them with an iced caramel latte on their way home from work can be enough to make their day. The small things really do count and they are remembered more than you might think. There's something magical in knowing that your partner feels appreciated and happy that they have the privilege of calling you mine. And the small things can do just that.

8. Sharing Interests

Having things in common with the one you love and sharing interests with your partner is perfect because neither one of you need to accommodate the other! There will be days where both you and your partner will not want to do the same things and a middle ground will have to be met, but sharing interests makes it easier when looking for fun things to do and finding things to talk about! Having a few similar interests like bike riding or playing football allows you and your partner to have your "thing," the thing that brings you two together. Liking similar things is also a perfect conversation starter, but also talking about your dislikes and things that you don't agree on can spark an intense and even more enticing conversation!

9. Celebrate Achievements

The happiness you feel because of your own achievements should be the same feeling you get when your partner accomplishes something they've been striving for, no matter how little it may be. Whether it be winning the Noble Peace Prize, having a 4.0 GPA, or hitting a new record at the gym, no achievement should go unnoticed. Being proud of your partner's achievements can strengthen your relationship and bring the both of you closer together.

10. Love and Affection

Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life. This might strike you at first, but what's the point of being successful, rich, happy or really anything else if you have nobody to share it with? Love is one of life's greatest gifts. It brings people together and allows them to build a life that some can only dream of. But sometimes love is not enough to maintain a prosperous and healthy relationship. That's because relationships aren't easy, people are so different from one another, and relationships take much effort and patience. But in the end, if you don't have love in a relationship, you really don't have anything. Take the time to show your partner some affection, to make alone time a priority. The kisses, hugs, and even sex is something that in the end does make a relationship healthy. But without love, all of that means nothing.

Every relationship struggles, but only strong relationships get through it. Take the time to focus on these ten things that are important in keeping the love alive and feelings between you and your partner strong. And most importantly, remember that no one falls in love by choice; it's by chance, and no one falls out of love by chance--it's by choice.

Cover Image Credit: Marika Cygert

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8 Types Of People Fetuses Grow Into That 'Pro-Lifers' Don't Give 2.5 Shits About

It is easy to fight for the life of someone who isn't born, and then forget that you wanted them to be alive when you decide to hate their existence.


For those in support of the #AbortionBans happening all over the United States, please remember that the unborn will not always be a fetus — he or she may grow up to be just another person whose existence you don't support.

The fetus may grow up to be transgender — they may wear clothes you deem "not for them" and identify in a way you don't agree with, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them a mentally unstable perv for trying to use the bathroom.

The fetus may grow up to be gay — they may find happiness and love in the arms of someone of the same gender, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them "vile" and shield your children's eyes when they kiss their partner.

The fetus may grow up and go to school — to get shot by someone carrying a gun they should have never been able to acquire, and their life will mean nothing to you when your right to bear arms is on the line.

The fetus may be black — they may wear baggy pants and "look like a thug", and their life will mean nothing to you when you defend the police officer who had no reason to shoot.

The fetus may grow up to be a criminal — he might live on death row for a heinous crime, and his life will mean nothing to you when you fight for the use of lethal injection to end it.

The fetus may end up poor — living off of a minimum wage job and food stamps to survive, and their life will mean nothing to you when they ask for assistance and you call them a "freeloader" and refuse.

The fetus may end up addicted to drugs — an experimentation gone wrong that has led to a lifetime of getting high and their life will mean nothing to you when you see a report that they OD'd and you make a fuss about the availability of Narcan.

The fetus may one day need an abortion — from trauma or simply not being ready, and her life will mean nothing to you as you wave "murderer" and "God hates you" signs as she walks into the office for the procedure.

* * *

Do not tell me that you are pro-life when all of the above people could lose their lives in any way OUTSIDE of abortion and you wouldn't give 2.5 shits.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is gay or trans, you will berate them for who they are or not support them for who they love.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is poor or addicted, you will refuse the help they desperately need or consider their death a betterment of society.

You fight for the baby to be born, but when the used-to-be-classroom-of-fetuses is shot, you care more about your access to firearms than their lives.

It is easy to pretend you care about someone before they are even born, and easy to forget their birth was something you fought for when they are anything other than what you consider an ideal person.

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