“Tragic” is not a strong enough word to describe the whole situation of the scandal at Penn State and the current trial of former coach Jerry Sandusky.
When I watched the interview with Bob Costas that was held late last year, it reminded me of several workplace investigations I’ve been involved with over the years. None as serious as the issues in the Pennsylvania courtroom today, but having one thing in common: the accused’s seeming lack of understanding of the reality of the charges. Given the seriousness of the original charges, I was surprised to learn there was going to be an interview with Costas. Then, when I heard it, I was shocked at the total unpreparedness of Sandusky. Surely, he would have key messages to help people understand that the charges were false. That his efforts on behalf of youngsters have been misunderstood, and that when his day in court comes, it would all be cleared and he would be acquitted.
At this point, that seems like an unlikely outcome. But what hasn’t change is his demeanor. He’s not arrogant in an “I don’t deserve to be in this courtroom” kind of way. He seems more confused and befuddled, assuming that everyone will have a moment of enlightenment where we will all “get” him.
And that is what reminds me of some employees situations I’ve dealt with in the past. Situations where an employee understands that we are claiming they did wrong, but they are unsure of what the problem is. There was the guy who was so in love with his co-worker, that he didn’t seem to understand she meant it when she asked to be left alone. He somehow believed they were meant for each other, and was certain she would see that in time. Or the other employee who didn’t actually send the picture of the naked girl to the printer, but he could understand how we thought it might be him. And then there was a machine operator who refused to follow safety regulations, because he knew enough about how his machine worked that he couldn’t get hurt.
They, like Sandusky, had convinced themselves somehow that reality was different for them. That literally everyone around them just doesn’t see things for what they really are.
And in this case, they are tragic.
Sometimes, the best we can hope for in situations like this is that we move people like this someplace where their view of reality doesn’t matter. If Sandusky did what he is charged with, whether it was one time or fifty-one times, those children will have to live with that and will need special care to get past it. But if found guilty, no matter how many children were better off for his programs or his attention, then his reality is proven to be unreal. He may understand that at some point, but it won’t matter to those victims and their families.
If you have an employee who has that alternate reality view of things, you might want to keep an eye on them to be sure that alternate reality isn’t going to eventually hurt someone or the employee themselves.