The headlines are messy. Actually, it’s more than the headlines that are so messy.
David Petraeus, who up until 2 weeks ago, was considered perhaps one of the nation’s few, contemporary, national “heroes,” unfortunately instantly had his heroic status removed. Petraeus, the then current head of the Central Intelligence Agency — and former 4 star general — resigned his directorship of the CIA, citing an extramarital affair that was reportedly discovered via an FBI investigation.
Yes, the headlines are messy. The details are murky. There are questions and more questions as to the timeline of Petraeus’s infidelity, additional military personnel involved, potential breach of classified information, disclosure to the White House and Congress, timing surrounding the election, and any impact on Petraeus’s testimony regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Friends, this blog will address none of the above. The reality is that none of the ‘questions and more questions’ are issues that at this time we can affirm or deny with certainty; hence, we will resist any temptation. Today I wish to instead focus on one reaction… actually a common reaction… a reaction we especially employ when we’re fairly fond of the hero…
… such as Bill Clinton. Julia Roberts. Jerry Seinfeld.
All people at the “top of their game,” so-to-speak. People who were at pinnacle points in their careers, and yet…
… they engaged in extramarital affairs.
The common reaction when we’re fond of our “hero”?
“It’s just about sex.”
The reality is it’s not “just about” sex; that’s what we tend to say in order to minimize the extent of what it’s actually all about. It’s about a complete lapse of judgment. It’s about emotion trumping commitment. It’s about an ethical standard that is lesser or potentially nonexistent. It’s often also about self.
Now please hear no piling of shame upon any person. The truth is that each of us are capable of lapses of judgment and emotion trumping all; in fact, dare I suggest that I am not climbing out on any limb by disclosing that each of us have most likely fallen prey to some poor decision-making. I also suggest — wholeheartedly — that each of us, also, is not fully defined by that poor decision-making; each of us is capable of redemption and forgiveness…
… which is equally available to Bill Clinton, Julia Roberts, and Jerry Seinfeld. It is available to David Petraeus.
True, it still makes no sense.
How could a person so admired and decorated stoop so seemingly, unscrupulously low? Petraeus has a Ph.D. He was an assistant professor. He was confirmed unanimously at the CIA. In 2007, Time magazine named him as one of their 4 runners up for “Person of the Year.” He was named the second most influential American conservative by The Daily Telegraph as well as their Man of the Year. In 2005, Petraeus was identified as one of America’s top leaders by U.S. News & World Report. In 2008, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines selected Petraeus as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals. The Static Line Association named him its 2008 Airborne Man of the Year. Der Spiegel named him “America’s most respected soldier.” Newsweek named him the 16th most powerful person in the world. He was also named as one of the “75 Best People in the World” in the October 2009 issue of Esquire.
Why would one man risk so much? … put so much on the line?
Because it’s not about sex. It’s about a lapse in judgment. If we compromise our ethical standards in one area, where else are we willing to compromise?
Recognizing that we are each in need of redemption and forgiveness…