Psychiatrist Explains Culture Of Power

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Prior to Wednesday night, Joe Paterno’s power base was legendary at Penn State.

Modern history is full of those who have amassed power and used it in contrasting ways.

English cleric Charles Colton once said, “No man is wise enough nor good enough to be trusted with unlimited power.”

From Abraham Lincoln: “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

“It can be a real challenge to remember what your limitations are,” Dr. P. Van Nickell, chairman of the psychiatry department at Allegheny General Hospital, said.

In the case of Joe Paterno at Penn State his status and power were widely known.

“Most of us succumb to our human arrogance and start to believe what everyone’s saying about us and consciously or subconsciously surround ourselves with people who agree with us,” Dr. Nickell said.

For Joe Paterno, that power was bestowed on him on many fall Saturdays by thousands in the adoring throng.

And as William Pitt once said: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”

And inside the world of Penn State, Paterno was virtually unchecked.

“Over years if we don’t get corrections to the course, the small deviations build up over time.”

In this case, Dr. Van Nickell says the culture of unquestioned power deviated priorities to the university’s interest over the victims.

“I would have to think that on some level that was a decision that was made,” Nickell said. “Protect the turf, protect the power, protect the image.”

Dr. Van Nickell believes Joe Paterno is basically an honorable man who once the dust settles outside the cloud of power will look back and be surprised by the decisions he made.


PHOTO GALLERY: Chaos On Campus After PSU Fires JoePa
VIDEO: Interim Coach Tom Bradley (11/10)
VIDEO: Joe Paterno Speaks After Firing (11/9)
VIDEO: Board of Trustees News Conference (11/9)
VIDEO: Watch The Attorney General’s News Conference (11/7)
STORY: Gov. Corbett Asks Penn State Students To Show Restraint
STORY: Bradley Takes Interim Coaching Job “With Mixed Emotions”
LINK: More On The Penn State Scandal

WARNING Contains Graphic Material: Read The Entire Grand Jury Presentment
AG, PSP Commissioner Statements: Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
LINK: Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office
LINK: Penn State Nittany Lions

More from John Shumway

One Comment

  1. wake up PSU cult members! says:

    it’s not “culture of power” in this case…’s CULT of power

  2. Too Much Power says:

    Over the last several days, EVERYONE has been talking about this horrific situation. Everyone has their opinions . . . who should stay, who should go, poor JoePa etc. etc. I’m no psychiatrist, but I voiced my opinion about “Too Much Power”. That’s a huge component in this tragedy. Everyone FEARED that by doing the right thing, they might rock the boat, lose their job, etc. There is way too much power everywhere . . . in our local, state and federal government, in our workplaces — that’s got to change. There’s power, and then there’s abuse of power. This needs to be discussed going forward.

  3. smith, A says:

    Too Much Power is a great definition of this case. People in general, not just JoePa and the people involved in this case, but all of us have at one point in time validated an “inaction” through telling someone we identify as being in a position of “More Power” than ourselves. Such incidents might be as small as saying “I accidentally got something on the bottom of my shopping cart I didn’t pay for” to more serious cases such as this child abuse case. We tell ourselves that we “DID” something, and blindly hope that it has been taken care of. In reality we only tried to pass the buck and seek some action from someone else….each time the buck is passed it becomes less and less serious to those that hear it, each validating and reducing the seriousness of accusations (like playing the game ‘telephone’). All of the sadness in this case as well as the cases that occurred after it were a direct result of inaction which enabled the abuser to continue to abuse and traumatize innocent youth. I am so sorry to those that were victims of inaction and especially for those children who had a witness that did not do right by them. As for Sandusky, he is a sick and twisted person who used his own power and connections to enable his crimes and left a sea of victims and conspirators in the process, all victims of Sandusky and some becoming guilty by association.

  4. smith, A says:

    One additional comment: I must say that if there is anything learned in this case, it is the process of doing the right thing and owning your responsibilities as a witness. Report a crime that you see committed and let the investigations be held by those that are authorities to the action of crime (the police or Child Protection Agencies). If you hear of a crime or case that occurs (especially when involving a child), DO SOMETHING. You might find you have saved someone from having additional abuse or a new victim from being traumatized. We don’t get to choose who is a witness to a crime, but we have a responsibility to our community and to our morality to do what is right, even if the consequence is something you don’t wish for. The consequences of inaction are so much worse.

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