But David Brooks brings up an excellent point in his recent New York Times piece: It’s easy to express moral outrage at others, but are we 100 percent certain we’d do the right thing?
I’d like to think I would. But moral responsibility to intervene declines the farther away we are from the atrocity. Plus, it’s easy to say we’d do something; it’s much harder to act.
To support his claim, Brooks brings up a 1999 study at Penn State:
Students were asked if they would make a stink if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half said yes. When researchers arranged for that to happen, only 16 percent protested.
Sure, a sexist remark is much different from child abuse. Nevertheless, the urge to remain a bystander is pervasive in our society. The urge not to snitch is not just something we think urban kids embrace. The tendency to protect criminals is strong and dangerous.
That’s why I think it’s necessary to talk about the Penn State scandal with our students. The lurid details aren’t necessary and might be inappropriate. But the consequences of a no-snitching culture need to be explored.
If we have bad people out there, and we’re not going to do anything to stop them, then we have a problem. Penn State proves that it’s time for us to be strong with our students that snitching is doing the right thing.