INNOCENCE AND SCANDAL - A Choice for Our Time
On Nov. 9th General David Petraeus resigned suddenly as head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, after pursuing a lifelong military career of high honor and visibility. What follows concerns not only scandal in this particular instance, but all scandal and the widespread attitudes which propel it.
It is not so much what a scandal is about on the collective level that makes it antithetical to innocence and the cultivation of innocence. It is that fascination and curiosity concerning scandal of any kind - concerning the downfall or disgrace of anyone for any reason, objectifies the real human being who has lived or is living through the revelation of their behavior to the eyes of the world, and whose underlying motives for having become involved in scandal one cannot tell from the outside.
Innocence meets the downfall or disgrace of anyone with regret and with compassion. In linking with the soul, it links with kindness. Scandal, on the other hand, meets the revelation of impropriety or illegal behavior of a public figure with fascination and with the kind of ‘literary’ interest concerning motives that is similar to the wish to solve a good mystery. It is not noble. It is not respectful of the integrity of each being.
There is a collective need when formerly concealed behavior that negatively affects the welfare of others is revealed, to acquire information about it so that just measures may be taken to limit this negative effect. However, this is different than fascination with those who have 'fallen’ from whatever high state of admiration and opinion we have placed them in. Such inquiry can be sober. It can be solemn.
There are energies that thrive in the atmosphere of the scandalous. They thrive when human beings are willing to separate from each other, to view each other as objects, to feel superior to others, or to look at the lives of others, even of well-known others, as if these lives can be understood from the outside through a set of a few details. Such an attitude is not only disrespectful to the soul that lives within. It presumes that one can think or know how another thinks and feels without actually knowing, and it presumes that one can assess the measure of a person through the collective discussion and sharing of opinions that is often part of a person's change in stature within the public eye.
This loss of respect for the privacy or integrity of a life has been something that we, the public and the news media, have felt entitled to, claiming public figures and celebrities as our own, to learn about and discuss as we saw fit. Yet, this attitude toward celebrity and toward scandal diminishes our capacity to understand the complexity of a human life, and does not accord the respect to each life that it truly deserves. It may be that the dignity of the one whom we looked at with admiration from afar has been changed in the course of a scandal, but in participating in such an unfoldment ourselves, it is also our own dignity that has been diminished.
We cannot participate in the disrespect of the lives of others without diminishing ourselves. We cannot presume to know how others feel because their behavior is in the public eye, without making of them a caricature rather than a living being. Such diminishment of understanding is played upon by subtle forces that would keep human beings from truly living at a deeper level with each other. It is upheld by these forces as 'the right to know,' 'the right to judge.' Such a right does not inform the arena of public opinion in which scandal thrives. It informs the right of those who are accorded due process of law with which to investigate misdemeanors, improprieties, and other acts which may have a deleterious effect upon the whole.
America is meant to be a nation of respect of one for another. It is meant to be a nation that values the integrity of each being as a divinely created child of God. It is not meant to live on the surface of itself as a nation that sanctifies or tolerates certain improprieties and dismisses others. It is meant to limit its judgment of others in favor of according to all the right to privacy, integrity, and non-judgment that each human being is entitled to.
We have been blessed to live in the land of the free. But we are not blessed in the use of this freedom to diminish or tarnish the soul essence of another or to give less than full measure of respect to that soul essence as those who become involved in the intrigue of scandal demonstrate.
Let us understand that although scandal concerning public figures in many walks of life has been common, and the proclamation of the public's 'right to know' has been equally common, what is common is not necessarily what is right or what is highest. Let us then reach for the highest within ourselves, and agree not to participate by word or deed in the downfall of another, whatever the actions that induced this, and whatever the consequences of those actions may be. Respect alone of the Divine life that dwells within all requires this. And it is this respect that we see diminished or missing altogether when scandal holds sway over the mind or emotions of a nation.