As I think back on the news this week, the one word that comes to mind most is scandal. Multiple incidents involving Wall Street, brokerage and investment firms are coming to light. Acts by numerous city, state and federal officials are being uncovered, forcing some to resign while others are facing certain prosecution. Sports, entertainment and other public figures were all in the headlines for their actions and words. Time does not permit me to list them individually, but I bet you can remember many.
The one that impacts my heart most was the report on Penn State and the awful child abuse tragedy, abuse of power and subsequent cover-up. Undisputed evidence was released, detailing years of exploitation, denial, greed and cover-up. I don’t know about you, but listening to Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. report about child abuse and how everyone turned a blind eye to years of undeniable evidence was gut-wrenching. When asked why people did not come forward, everyone was afraid to say something negative. They didn’t want to rock the boat, be the source of bad publicity or bring consequences to people, the football program, Joe Paterno or Penn State.
With universal condemnation, people and pundits from all sides have roundly denounced not only these heinous acts but also leadership failure and fostering a “concealment culture” exhibited by one and all. Those in positions of leadership were responsible for providing oversight and protection. They failed on all counts. Leadership leads, celebrating success and courage. Leadership also identifies, seeks out and exposes moral failures, no matter what the cost.
Today’s leaders and elite are more talented and tech-savvy but lack a conscious. We have moved from living right to win/succeed at any cost. If you want evidence of this, just listen to students talk about how cheating is not wrong if you don’t get caught. The same is true in business. I once worked for a manager who intentionally inserted an incorrect calculation in a spreadsheet in order to report better results. When I brought this to his attention his exact words were, “It’s only lying if we get caught.”
This week, a friend and I were talking about these incidents, trying to find a pattern in them, seeing what root causes they might have in common. It’s easy to condemn something so awful, especially when we have no personal involvement. We batted many thoughts back and forth, looking for a “silver bullet” that would explain and make sense of the senseless. However, as we looked for reasons for these failures in others we could not help turning the conversation personal, looking into our own souls, confessing our own moral weakness and failures. It may be a hard, bitter pill to swallow, but if we are honest with ourselves we have the exact same flaws, weakness and evil.
Malcolm Muggeridge, perhaps England’s greatest journalist, author, media personality and satirist astutely observed that the wickedness of man is at once the most unpopular of all beliefs, but the one that has the most examples that are easily verifiable. Malcolm’s message is not one we like to hear. We want only positive reinforcement and feedback. We want to be patted on the back and congratulated for a good job, celebrating our contribution and decency.
All you have to do is read the history of mankind and the vastly overwhelming observation is that we choose selfishness, wrong, evil. It always happens like this; someone puts themselves above others, they put this new “lower class” down, make fun of them, eventually leading to oppression, cruelty and violence. And these are the kind of wicked people that we enjoy hating; really evil, no questions asked.
Think about “The Shawshank Redemption” and Warden Samuel Norton, we love to hate characters like him. He has a religions exterior but inside he’s evil, abusive and corrupt. Not only is he skimming money from the prison and contractors, he’s vindictive and hateful towards prisoners. It’s easy to hate characters like Warden Norton, Adolph Hitler and Lord Voldemort because their evil is so visible. As we point the finger at evil characters like these, we may be tempted to puff up ourselves with self-pride, assured that we would never do something like this. But would we fall just like them?
I’m reminded of Tiger Woods; his great talent, success beyond measure both on and off the golf course, loving parents, a beautiful wife and family, everything he touched seemed to blossom into success and fame. From this lofty perch high atop fame and fortune he fell into scandal, and it was such a fall. Faced with virtually unlimited resources he slid into the abyss of excess, one step at a time. One reporter asked Tiger how he could lie to his family and public for so long. Tiger’s answer was brilliant, “I could lie to them because I was lying to myself.”
Does seeing others fall into scandal frighten us? Or do we think “That will never happen to me.” Drifting into the second option can be the result of egotism, thinking that we are better than those that fall. Our failures may not be as public, but our arrogance of self-sufficiency is the same quality of evil. When we look at someone with feelings of superiority, when we fail to speak up for the truth or the weak, we are just as guilty.
Jesus taught and exhibited this kind of life. Not only did he live a life of complete purity, he loved and spent time with the weak, sick and those others loved to hate. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners, which was a label not meant as a complement in the least. And on top of all that, he said he was God come down from heaven to restore our relationship with God and each other.
No one else in all history said the kind of things that Jesus said. No one else claimed to pay the price to buy us back from the slavery we all find ourselves chained to, bringing us back to God. Our inability to do and say the right thing stops us dead in our tracks. Jesus said that he was the track and truth life.
So when we fail, and we will, we need to turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. There is no failure or fall so great that he cannot forgive or restore. Let us run to him and be forgiven.
Blessings - Chet
Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives culture and faith.
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