There is no such thing as a hero, only ordinary men. And in some cases, ordinary men who make horrible decisions and painful mistakes.
Heroes are a fallacy born in the human mind, created to crush the fears and limitations we believe are pressing down on our existence. The world is falling down all around us, but our saviors are the ones who keep evil out of our back yard and protect those in need. Their every word is worshiped and every action unquestioned.
Because of this, we elevate these ordinary people above ourselves to a perceived level that is unattainable by us flawed individuals. And thanks to our boost, these men feel empowered to act as we treat them -- one step above the drama, the evil, and ultimately the consequences.
But instead of judging them we should be taking a step back from the emotion and realizing that like them, we too are just normal people. None of us worthy of the exponential power we grant to presidents, coaches, and other high-ranking authority.
Ordinary humans are to blame, not heroes or villains. The same type of people we interact with at school, work, during our social lives and in our homes on a daily basis. Ordinary men are the ones our children will become and must learn to interact with and work alongside. The type of people they should be taught to think of as equals, not superiors.
Respect is what authority figures deserve, not reverence. Because, after all, they're just like you and me.
It was ordinary men who took part in the horrible actions carried out by the Nazis in Germany. "Artisans, salesmen, and clerks..." all fell victim to the power of authority. And as more and more men around them took part, the power of social proof took hold and helped to justify their actions. As others around them took life after life, the draw of the mob mentality enveloped the minds of many of those normal men and turned them into monsters.
Many of us may also remember the famous hyperbole that asks, "If your friends jumped off a bridge; would you?" The sad thing is that the answer to the question is most likely, "Yes, if the others land safely." But the sad part isn't that the answer is "yes," it's that we think we're so different from our peers and invulnerable to the powers that impact our every action.
That homeless man you just walked past on the sidewalk; was he just a sleeping bum or someone in need? Once again, human beings judge uncertain and uncomfortable situations on the actions of others. If everyone else is walking past, then the man must just be a homeless guy. But how do you really know? You don't unless you check. And what if someone you respected -- or revered -- walked right past? You most likely would trust their judgement and assume they know better than you as you walk past step-for-step.
And when ordinary people, whether in positions of power or not, are presented with threatening situations that disturb their peaceful way of life; they, you, and me find ways to rationalize it away.
It's partly why Mike McQueary struggled to describe in detail what he saw in that Penn State shower when he talked to Joe Paterno. He didn't want to believe it and if he explained in detail what he saw, he would have to accept it as truth. And, in part, due to McQueary's vagueness, JoePa wrongfully rationalized away the seriousness of the situation by mixing in his own desire for it to be just a misunderstanding.
Not because Joe was a malicious man -- but because he just didn't want it to be true.
As the situation spread throughout the four-headed Penn State leadership monster at the heart of the cover-up; so did the ability of those four men to pretend away what was really going on. Each consulting with each other on an idea to hope it all away. A response which would have weighed heavily on each of them individually, but when accepted by each part of the group; made the weight seem shared and less heavy.
You see, this isn't about defending or reprimanding the actions of the four involved in the cover-up or others who could have stopped Sandusky at any time. This is about defending their status as human beings -- as ordinary men. It's about defending ourselves and those around us. It's the only way we learn from this. The only victory that can be won here.
Realize, that like them, we too are ordinary men; suspect to external powers like authority and social influence. Understand that our brains will fight us to pretend away hurtful information, so we must fight back. These are lessons we need personally and something we must pass along to our friends, families, and our children.
From the losses we are reminded that there really is no such thing as a hero. And we reflect for our own good and that of our loved ones, so we always remember that no one is above who we are at our inner-most core.
Nothing more, nothing less. We are ordinary men.
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. Share your thoughts with him on Twitter by following @long_snapper.