Thursday, June 25, 2009
Sanford, Infidelity, and What the Latest Sex Scandal Says about Us
Prepare yourself for another news day involving the fallout from the Mark Sanford saga. The cable news networks, internet, blogosphere, and talk shows could speak of nothing else yesterday and, true to form, they will continue their analysis and critique today. In the midst of this cerebration, few people will be truly willing to confront the real story behind the story. If we were honest with ourselves, we'd take this as another opportunity to ask ourselves, collectively, the roots from whence infidelity stems and why those in positions of power so easily and willfully violate their marriage vows.
The conversation we're not having, partially because we're not comfortable with it, partially because it would reveal much about our own attitudes is why people in positions of power stray from their marriage. The Puritan in each of us has a instant tendency to judge them harshly, mercilessly, critiquing their behavior as purely a product of poor self-control, immoral influences, and a deficit of self-discipline. But what this critique does not take into account is how power, talent, and influence is very much an aphrodisiac. Any heterosexual male who has ever picked up a guitar, strummed a few tentative chords, and sang in front of even a few interested women knows this well. Any man placed in a position of authority knows too how women are easily attracted to authority figures. And, it should be added, this phenomenon also applies to powerful women employed in these stations, though the incidents themselves are either less frequent in number or less frequently reported.
I remember that when I was in college I made friendships with several of my professors. I became especially close to a handful of them and after I gained their confidence I was provided a peek into their private lives. Many of them quietly carried on adulterous affairs with their students, often taking a new sexual partner every term. Naturally, I never felt any inclination to inform their wives (or husbands, in some cases, or their same-sex partners) because while I might have found it personally objectionable I took the attitude that it was none of my business. At times, I wondered how their spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends felt about the matter, but their complete silence on the matter seemed to answer the question for me.
I seriously doubt I'm the first person who has been faced with this realization. Though I have never been close enough to a political campaign or major office to see the behind-the-scenes back and forth, I bet this goes on all the time there, too. As the ancient phrase goes, most people are followers and few people are leaders. But what can be safely affixed to that saying is that followers often find leaders irresistibly attractive. A potent cocktail of power, money, influence, and means leads indirectly to temptation. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could be the strong ones with these constant distractions. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could be the moral ones when immorality, as commonly defined, is an omnipresent factor that goes along with the job description. What we might need to ask ourselves is whether we could keep it all from going to our heads and, if we indulged, would we be progressively more and more careless in the act of covering our tracks. Or, what we might especially ask is whether we'd be star-struck ourselves in the company of one of our stars, craving the attention and yes, even sexual graces of one of our personal heroes or romantic fantasies.
Crusading journalist Ed Murrow used this passage from Shakespeare to make a vital point about Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare of the 1950's, but in this regard, it speaks well to the matter at hand.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."