The allegations against Jerry Sandusky are horrific, yes, but you won’t find David Brooks amongst the masses exclaiming that they would have rushed to police, or rushed at Sandusky and stopped the alleged assault, had they been in Joe Paterno or Mike McQueary's shoes. In the New York Times, Brooks decries the "vanity" of all this outrage and indignation, pointing out that none of us truly knows how we would have behaved. History is full of examples—and studies—showing that people are, in general, slow to intervene.
Some can’t process what they’re seeing; some shut down; some simply don’t look. Even people who "consciously register some offense" have been known to ignore the situation, Brooks points out; it’s called "the Bystander Effect." A 1999 study at Penn State actually found that we predict we'll behave more honorably than we do: 50% of students said they'd protest a sexist remark made in front of them; when put in such a scenario, only 16% really did. When facing something terrible, this self-deception causes people to look for "some artificial, outside force that must have caused it," Brooks writes. But instead of asking, "How could they have let this happen?" we should be asking, "How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive." (Read more Jerry Sandusky stories.)