Two weeks ago, a young woman who works at a local pizza shop was summoned to come outside by her boyfriend. She is a single mom, still a teenager, and had left her young child at home with the aforementioned man so she could go to work. That child was now alone.

This is a nice area just down the street from my apartment. It is an affluent shopping plaza, with a nice supermarket, an Amish furniture store, a few restaurants, and several quaint shops. My son goes to karate there three times a week. It is crawling with very nice, middle class people, the kind of people you feel safe around.

When the woman walked outside, the man started arguing with her. The argument grew heated, and he began to scream at her. Before long, he began to savagely beat her. In public. In daylight.

Soon, a small crowd gathered around the incident, with dozens of people standing there, watching. Good, decent people were frozen, observing this man brutally assault this woman, and the most anyone could do was call the police.

I wasn’t there, but when I heard about the incident, I was outraged. Why had this crowd done nothing? He could have been stopped. He should have been stopped.

“If I had been there,” I said to myself, “that guy would be the one in the hospital, not her.”

Ever hear yourself say something like that? I’m a big, tall, strong guy, and have gotten in my share of fights, so of course I would have charged into that situation like a white knight, heroically saving the day. Right?

Maybe I would have. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t. In the past few weeks we have seen one damning story after another demonstrate that all too often good people do nothing when faced with a similar choice.

Penn State coach Mike McQueary is a big, tall, strong guy in his own right, and he apparently witnessed the rape of a 10-year-old boy by Jerry Sandusky in a shower and did nothing to stop it. He did nothing to report it to the police. He saw it happen with his own two eyes, allowed it to continue and didn’t alert the authorities.

Instead, he decided to pass the buck to head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno decided to pass the buck to the athletic director, Tim Curley. Then, the cover up began. Nobody felt the need to follow up, or see to it that those children were protected from Sandusky. People knew, and they did nothing.

Surely, any one of us would have done better in that situation. Wouldn’t we?

We’ve seen troubling things regarding child sexual abuse in the past from the Catholic Church, which systematically hid evidence, paid hush money, protected abusers and abandoned the abused. Dozens of very important — and very religious — people knew about everything that happened, and did nothing.

Surely, any one of us would have done better in that situation. Wouldn’t we?

Recently, the Bangor area was shaken to learn of the apparent suicide of Rev. Robert Carlson, a local icon. He took his own life after an investigation was opened by the state police into allegations of child sexual abuse by Carlson roughly 40 years ago.

The investigation began when a letter was sent to the Katahdin Area Council of Boy Scouts alleging the abuse. What happened? Did something happen at a Boy Scout event? Were there other people present? Was there a cover up? Did others know and do nothing?

Time after time we are presented with stories that prove that even the best among us fail to act when we can, and should. We all want to think that the trouble lies with all those other people who don’t have the moral courage to act. If only we would have been there, things would have been different.

Maybe. Or maybe we aren’t as righteous and pure as we think we are, and are equally as capable of moral cowardice. Failing to act deserves contempt and disgrace. But so does the fatal conceit that we are necessarily any better than those who failed to act.

I truly hope that we are, but after seeing so many good people I looked up to do nothing while others suffered, I’m not so sure anymore, and that loss of faith is tragic.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at and read his blog at

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...