A few articles in the news recently illustrate a disturbing failure in that can be seen in a multitude of situations throughout society. These cases are from the U.S., but I imagine the pattern applies just about anywhere.
In Dallas, Texas, Antoine Flowers, hired for a top information technology post at Dallas City Hall, resigned after four months on the job. Two weeks later, he was arrested for stealing and pawning $10,000 worth of the city’s iPads.
The real question is how he got hired in the first place. Flowers’ resume stated that he’d worked as a software engineer at NASA, was a college education director and had served in the Army, with top-secret clearances. This did not raise any eyebrows at City Hall, even though he was only 26 years old, and no one checked his references. Needless to say, his entire resume was fabricated. Read:
Series of failures at Dallas City hall led to IT manager scandal, on DallasNews.com.
Rutgers basketball coach
Last week, ESPN aired videos showing the Rutgers University men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, verbally and even physically abusing his players. The clips show him shoving players, throwing basketballs at them, and yelling homophobic slurs. (This is the same college where a student used a webcam to post video of his roommate kissing another man on the Internet. The roommate jumped off a bridge and died.)
What’s disturbing is that university officials knew about the coach’s abusive behavior long before last week. The video was compiled by a former assistant coach, Eric Murdock. Murdock’s lawyer sent a letter alleging the abusive behavior to Rutger’s officials last July. After repeated requests, Murdock was finally able to get officials to watch the video in November.
At that point, Rutgers commissioned lawyers to investigate and write a report. The lawyers found that Rice was indeed abusive. So the coach was fined, suspended for three games and ordered to attend anger management classes. He was not fired until last week, after the videos were broadcast on national television. Read:
Rutgers officials long knew of coach’s actions, on NYTimes.com.
Colorado theater shooting
On July 20, 2012, during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman entered a packed movie theater with guns blazing. In the end, 12 people were dead and 58 injured. James Holmes was arrested outside the theater minutes later.
Court documents made public last week showed that a psychiatrist treating Holmes, Dr. Lynne Fenton, had warned campus police at the University of Colorado, Denver, a month before the shooting that Holmes was dangerous and had homicidal thoughts. A search warrant affidavit stated:
“Dr. Fenton advised that through her contact with James Holmes she was reporting, per her requirement, his danger to the public due to homicidal statements he had made.”
Campus police deactivated Holmes’ university access card. It’s unclear if any other action was taken. Read:
Documents: Psychiatrist warned James Holmes was dangerous, on USAToday.com.
In each of these cases, not enough action was taken to address situations that needed to be addressed. Dallas city officials did not investigate an improbable resume and ended up hiring a thief. Rutgers officials did not fire a man who should not have been in a position of authority over students and it turned into a national scandal. No one reacted to a blunt warning about James Holmes and 12 people died.
Why was so little done?
The Dallas case is easiest to explain. If Antoine Flowers brazenly submitted a resume filled with outrageous lies, got the job, and within months stole from his employer, I’m willing to bet that he’s a sociopath. So he probably aced the interview, sweet talked any women involved in the process, and brown-nosed his superiors. We all know how sociopaths do it.
In the Rutgers case, university officials were more worried about lawsuits than protecting students. The lawyers investigated whether Coach Rice created a “hostile work environment,” which would mean that other Rutgers employees could sue and win. The college also wanted to know if the assistant coach had been wrongfully terminated. The lawyers cleared Rutgers on both of these issues, but added that Rice “did ‘cross the line.'”
“These improper actions,” the report added, “constitute grossly demeaning behavior directed at players, and occasionally at coaches, that do not appear necessary to build a high quality basketball program or to build a winning Division I basketball team.”
And the theater shooting? It seems to reflect the limitations of law enforcement in the U.S., and probably in other countries as well. As many Lovefraud readers have discovered, there’s little the police can do to prevent a crime, even when someone is known to be dangerous. Police can only act after a crime has been committed.
Reasons for failure to act
Failure to act in the face of wrongdoing, danger or evil is nothing new. For example, the fact that Adolph Hitler was rounding up Jews was widely reported by the media long before the U.S. entered World War II. Many people knew what was going on, but few took any action to either protect Jews or stop Hitler.
I believe there are basic reasons for our collective failure to act when action is appropriate.
First of all, as a society, we don’t acknowledge, or even recognize, that evil exists. We’re told that “there’s good in everyone,” “deep down we’re all the same,” “everyone makes mistakes,” “everyone deserves a second chance” and “we all just want to be loved.” Society does not tell us that there are exceptions to these platitudes. As many as 12 percent of the population are sociopaths—social predators who live their lives by exploiting others. Most of us didn’t know anything about sociopaths until we were personally targeted.
Secondly, taking action against bad behavior usually requires confrontation. Confrontation is at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, dangerous. Most of us would much rather avoid confrontation. In fact, probably the only people who enjoy confrontation are sociopaths. They, of course, are the ones causing the problems.
There are other reasons why we do not act. We may feel that the problem is too big, and we’re too small, so there’s nothing we can do. We may fear —legitimately fear—repercussions or retaliation. We may simply want to mind our own business.
Sooner rather than later
Unfortunately, not acting tends to enable bad behavior to grow. Ignoring or downplaying the first hints of a problem often means that when we finally have no choice but to take action, the situation is bigger, messier, more costly and even more dangerous.
Trying to overcome our tendency towards inaction is like trying to change basic human nature. Usually, we’d just rather not get involved. Unfortunately, this is what enables sociopaths to wreak so much destruction.
I’m not asking anyone to go out and change the world. But I think we should pay attention to our own little slivers of the world, to the people and events in our own lives. And when we see trouble, we should take action sooner rather than later—even if the action is simply to extricate ourselves from the situation.
Many of us probably wish we had done exactly that regarding our encounters with a sociopath. It may be too late to address the past, but I hope we can remember this lesson for the future.