When I think of greed in its purest form the example that comes to mind is the burning oil derrick scene from There Will Be Blood. An explosion on the derrick has just injured Daniel Plainview's (played by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar-winning performance) young son. Plainview carries his son to safety and his son tells him that he can't hear his own voice. However, Plainview's attention is drawn to the burning oil derrick. Despite his son's pleas, he leaves his son to go back to the derrick.
As the scene ends, Plainview is overjoyed about his oil find and the wealth that it will no doubt bring. He is oblivious to the fact that his now deaf son is watching him from a distance.
In Star Wars terminology we have just watched Plainview cross over to the dark side. The flames coming from the derrick symbolize the burning fires of hell - and that Plainview has been engulfed by his greed. He chooses the ecstasy of riches over being with his son at what is likely the scariest moment that the young boy will ever experience. Plainview amasses riches throughout the rest of his life, spending his last days on earth an incredibly wealthy man. But he is morally bankrupt, a mere shell of a person.
As the months and years pass, we seem to be gathering more and more examples of extreme greed. Bernie Madoff is one. You can google "wall street scandal" and take your pick of any of several financial institutions that bilked average consumers out of billions of dollars in the past few years. Tragic stories of people losing their life's savings and retirement. Many will never recover the smallest portion of what they lost.
But now our greed has taken an even scarier turn.
A few weeks ago we learned the fate of Gerald Sandusky, now convicted child molester. What we are now finding out is that the story goes much deeper. The now released Freeh Report details the actions of numerous Penn State officials and coaches involved in the Sandusky situation. And the numerous opportunities that each person had to step up and do something about it. And the sad truth that no one ever did. The beloved, powerful, and multi-million-dollar-money-making-machine known as the Penn State football program would take a major hit in the public eye if such a story ever saw the light of day.
So the officials and coaches simply turned away from what was happening. And children continued to be molested. Who would've thought Sandusky would have competition as to which character in this story would be the most monstrous?
A society's worth is many times measured by how it treats the weak. Looking over the past 10 years, I don't think I want to see our grade.
I just googled the phrase "we must do better" and got 1.38 million results. Here are the top 7 in order: 1) Former Senator Bill Bradley says we must do better to fix Washington; 2) Michael Grove (Secretary of Education) says we must do better for decades of underperformance in education; 3) Pastors say we must do better on premarital sexual ethics; 4) USAID (group that provides financial assistance overseas) Impact - we must do better than cash because cash can stifle economic development (say what?); 5) Senator John Boehner says we must do better in referring to the most recent unemployment report; 6) We must do better for children in the welfare system; 7) Bi-Partisan Jobs Bill - we must do better.
I'm sure if we took the time to review the remaining results we would find that the phrase "we must do better" would be applied to just about every organization, country, mission, ___________ (fill in the blank with your own example here), etc. at some point in history. It seems our species has a problem with this notion of doing better and apparently needs constant reminding of it.
And it's scary to think that our brothers and sisters at Penn State weren't presented with the incredibly difficult tasks of fixing Washington or our education system, or the socio-economic intricacies of repairing a flawed welfare system. All that any one of them needed to do was pick up the phone and call authorities. But that simple action proved too daunting.
We have heard that it takes a village to raise our children, and I happen to agree with that. But that village will only be as good as the decisions made by the individuals that inhabit it. Let's hope that next time our species is tested that the individuals involved will make the right choice - a choice that this time even a child could have made.