Getting your work-life balance right means becoming the person you want to grow into on-the-job, while getting closer to attaining the goals you most want to realize. That’s what changes a job from little more than a paycheck into a vocation, a calling. When you can see the evidence of what you value the most in the work that you do, a deeper sense of happiness and accomplishment comes into your life—maybe for the first time.
Connecting your values to your working life requires a whole new set of decision-making muscles. Above all, it means living with, and acting on, those values that are most important to you before you are faced with truly difficult choices.
People who have never road-tested their values in their own lives usually don’t know what to do when they are confronted with a situation that calls upon them to act in the most basic human ways. It is when a woman has fallen down in front of you and is bleeding on the sidewalk. Do you stop to help?
For too many of us, the choice is to walk around her and then make up an excuse for not acting: I couldn’t stop, I had to get to work, to school, or the gym. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I did stop. Someone else will probably help her. I’d rather not get involved.
There is a name for this kind of paralysis, this not-knowing-what-to-do and its associated excuses. It’s called “the bystander effect.”
There was a gut wrenching demonstration of this dynamic chronicled in the Philadelphia newspapers just before Christmas. What floored me was the realization that I’d heard all of these kinds of excuses before, indeed had heard them over and over again when I was growing up—although the stakes were never as high as they were for the victims of this story.
Bill Conlin, a Hall of Fame baseball writer for one of the City’s papers, was pushed into early retirement a few weeks ago after a chorus of middle-aged women and men (some of them members of his own family) accused him of molesting them when they were as young as seven years old. This kind of abuse, and another prominent individual’s involvement, are now numbingly familiar. But I broke out in a cold sweat when the story started talking about how many people knew what Conlin was doing 30-odd years ago, and their willingness to talk today about what they did and didn’t do with their knowledge at the time.
Those now talking include the kids who were once abused as well as the parents they told about it. As Kelley Blanchet, Conlin’s niece and one of the children he molested, told the reporter: “People have kept this secret. It’s not just the victims, it’s the victims’ families. There were so many people who knew about this and did nothing.”
Well not exactly nothing. The adults generally found their own private solutions.
Kelley’s parents kept her away from her uncle after the abuse, and her father actually confronted Conlin. But when Conlin denied that he had done anything and then started crying, Kelley’s dad found himself first pitying, and then believing him. Taking his word over their daughter’s, Kelley’s parents never alerted the parents of other children who frequented the Conlin house or even other family members about what had happened.
And there were lots of little boys and girls who flocked to Conlin’s house to play with his little boys, Billy and Peter, 30 years ago: like Barbara Healy’s children Kevin and Karen.
When Kevin came home one day complaining about Conlin’s touching him, Barbara told him to stay away from the Conlin house, but not to tell his father (“who had a terrible temper”) about what had happened. However Barbara never stopped her daughter Karen from going over to play with Conlin’s youngest son Peter because “I thought [Conlin] was just interested in boys.”
Years later, Karen and one of her girl friends told her mother that each of them, along with a third girl, had been repeatedly molested by Conlin in his home and elsewhere. Shocked, Barbara Healey picked up the phone and called the mothers of the other two girls. Collectively they agreed that one of their husbands should confront Conlin, but that the other two husbands should never even be told “fearing that in their anger they might harm him.”
This time when Conlin was confronted, he neither admitted nor denied the reported abuse, merely acknowledging that he heard what the father had come to say. These parents didn’t consider calling the police at the time, in part, as they recalled, out of loyalty to Conlin’s wife (“We didn’t want to hurt her,” they said).
Around the same time, another girl also told her parents that Conlin had repeatedly molested her, whereupon her father sought him out and challenged him angrily. “I just remember my mom holding my dad back and the two of them screaming at each other,” she reported. But again, her parents never alerted other parents, and the authorities were never told. Like the others, they chose to mind their own business.
These parents all kept their children away from Conlin after the reported abuse, but never considered the lasting consequences the abuse would have on the children themselves. As they now readily admit, there was a strong desire to just put the unpleasantness “behind us.” As Kelley Blanchet recalls: “no one ever talked about it. No one got therapy. Everyone just went on with their lives” as if nothing had happened.
These parents also never worried (or never worried enough) about the other little children being drawn into Conlin’s orbit to sound a wider alarm. (As I write this, other victims have already come forward.) On the other hand, even though Conlin plainly used his own little boys as bait to lure children like Kelley, Karen and Kevin into his home, their parents recall worrying at the time not only about Conlin himself (and whether certain fathers would hurt him) but also about Conlin’s wife (because she would presumably be either shocked or embarrassed to learn what had been going on).
It is laudable that these parents have come forward today to recount what happened and to express remorse (as many of them have) that they didn’t do more at the time. Unlike classic bystanders, these parents responded—they just didn’t do nearly enough.
What may be fairest to say about them is that they didn’t know what to do in an era when adults were often believed over children, an adult’s feelings were thought to be more important than a child’s, men were often too angry to be of help, and prominent adults (particularly sports figures) were given too much latitude.
But is it being too hard on them to say that these excuses are all unworthy of adults, when it comes right down to it?
What do you think?
Think of how different it might have been if these parents had taken the time beforehand to understand that because, in a sense, your child is every child, no parent can protect only their own children when they are reasonably certain that other unsuspecting children are likely to be violated in the same way.
How different might it have been if these parents had taken the time beforehand to understand the importance of speaking truth to power until the harm that the powerful are causing is stopped, and not merely re-directed?
These aren’t realizations that just “bubble to the surface” when a seven year old is looking up at you through her tears to tell you that someone has just molested her. In the heat of such moments, no one can think straight. You have to have done your thinking beforehand. Then the processing will already have been done, available to be summoned up at those difficult times when it is needed the most.
That’s how you know the right thing to do.
In an extraordinary observation made a couple of months before his own demons came home to roost, Bill Conlin-celebrated sports columnist wrote about the sex abuse scandal then engulfing former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. At the time, Conlin questioned whether those people, who were now saying that they would have intervened if they had witnessed Sandusky’s abuse, would actually have done so.
“Everybody says he will do the right thing, get involved, put his own ass on the line before or after the fact,” wrote Conlin. “But the moment itself has a cruel way of suspending our fearless intentions.” As he wrote these words, he clearly was recalling how the parents of his own victims had done so much less than their moment required.
Evil always depends on good men and women doing nothing, or not nearly enough.
In fact, it’s counting on it.