Research indicates that some people seem to naturally have more empathy than others, and onlookers can tell the difference by watching them listen to people relating tales about sad events in their lives.
That would explain a lot, but perhaps not as much as one might think. The somewhat less empathic people aren’t sociopaths; they just lack as much natural ability in this arena. Nurture can change things. And of course it remains to be seen whether this research will be validated and repeated over time.
I’ve long puzzled over a phenomenon I’ve noticed: that some people who have been abused (either sexually or emotionally or physically or some combination of the three) will vow never to do that to another human being, and in some cases choose to enter professions where they try to prevent further abuse and/or heal others who have suffered in the same way. But a not insignificant percentage of abuse victims will take a very different path, going on to re-enact their own abuse by inflicting it on others. It’s as though they lack empathy, not just towards others but towards their former selves, and instead identify with and take on the mantle of the aggressor.
What accounts for the different choices between these two groups? A moralist would say the first chooses good and the second evil. But when we ask “why” in psychological terms, the answer is that we don’t know, although perhaps this kindness gene may come into play in some fashion.
Speaking of abuse, there are some new developments in the Sandusky cse. He has denied being an abuser, which should come as no surprise whatsoever. But even the mere fact that the guy has repeatedly showered with young boys (to which he’s admitted) makes him exceedingly suspect.
In general, I try to preserve the presumption of innocence, and were I one of Sandusky’s jurors I would certainly do so. But I’m not, and there’s so much smoke there (and of a certain type: eyewitnesses for several incidents, and many children coming forward separately with reports of abuse that resemble each other in approach and venue) that one is almost forced to assume a rather large and nasty fire.
Nevertheless, we’ve also got the fact that Sandusky’s lawyer (who has his own somewhat troubled past) reports that the child in the 2002 shower rape incident (or someone the lawyer has supposedly identified as having been that child) says it never happened and that there was no rape. That could mean either that (a) it’s not the same person; or (b) the lawyer is lying and the alleged victim is not saying that; or (c) the alleged victim is frightened of the publicity or was paid off to be quiet; or (d) the alleged victim has repressed the memory; or (e) the rape actually did not occur and it was McQueary who was lying or mistaken when he reported that he witnessed it.
Hard to believe, though, that McQueary would have any motivation to lie in order to implicate Sandusky as a rapist—and, by implication, himself, for not doing enough to stop him.
And now, just to make things even more complex, there are reports that McQueary has changed his story to make himself out to be more of a hero than before [hat tip: commenter "Wolla Dalbo"]. He’s purportedly been sending out emails to friends saying that, rather than walking away, he intervened to stop the rape before reporting it.
So now it’s McQueary who appears to have changed his story, at least part of it. Do this impeach him as a witness? Remember that, according to the grand jury, the report of the incident with Victim 2 (the anal rape in the shower) rests entirely on McQueary’s say-so, because the child (who would now be grown up, like all the other victims) never testified and never was interviewed. Also, it was McQueary’s word against that of Paterno, Curley, and Schultz, who all said that McQueary had not reported a crime such as anal rape to them, but rather some vague suspicious behavior in the shower.
Of course, Victim 2′s testimony is not needed in order for us to believe Sandusky guilty. The entire body of evidence is quite convincing: many victims, now in their early twenties, have testified to a wide range of sexually abusive behavior on his part—from inappropriate and suspicious touching all the way to oral sex and one attempt (rebuffed) at anal sex. Most of this behavior occurred in the shower, as with alleged Victim 2. But in order to understand exactly what happened at Penn State—what McQueary saw and especially what he told Paterno and the others about what he saw—his own veracity is important. And it just may have become more questionable.