With the start of the college football season this past weekend, I was planning to write a comparison of two sports columns by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: one on the well-known failures at Penn State and the other about an unsung act of honor by Caltech. But when I read today's paper, I found a more significant example of what it means to accept responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.
The story came from Times columnist Steve Lopez, who wrote about John Whitaker, a former child actor and recovering drug addict, "addressing a rally to raise awareness of cartel violence in Mexico, and he started off by apologizing to the Mexican mothers he'd just heard speak about losing children in the drug wars."
One of the steps of his recovery, Whitaker said, "was to make reparations for the harms I caused."
... "One way I can make reparation is to meet with these families, and every time I heard a name — when a mother said this is my son Rudolfo, this is my son Enrique, this is my daughter Margarita — I felt a pain.... We people in recovery, and in the consumer world, are to blame for some of it, and we've got to take responsibility."
Lopez has written other columns recently about some of these Mexican mothers and the Caravan for Peace currently taking them across the U.S. to share their stories. But he also wrote in June about the rationalizations we Americans use to keep drug violence "conveniently distant." We hear the stories, but then push them out of our minds. We recognize our connection to them, but then minimize our culpability. It is a moral failure just as great as that of Penn State, and we should be no less ashamed of ourselves ... except for John Whitaker, and those like him, who recognize in these stories not strangers, but family, and who strive to be better siblings because of it.