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Time to judge ourselves, not just President Clinton

Time to judge ourselves, not just President Clinton

Background

A political sex scandal involving 49-year-old U.S. President Bill Clinton and 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky took place in 1998. Their sexual relationship lasted between 1995 and 1997. Clinton ended a televised speech in late January 1998 with the statement that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” Further investigation led to charges of perjury and to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 by the U.S. House of Representatives. He was subsequently acquitted on all impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

I am writing this because, although I am a slow learner, I think I finally got the point. 

Having done some soul-searching and a little self-analysis, I would like to share a few observations. If this sounds judgmental in any way, please forgive me. I am judging myself as well.

We’ve fallen asleep watching the latest report about our president’s obvious shortcoming and have woken up to the same news the next morning. Our appetite for petty details of the lifestyles of the rich and famous has been insatiable. We have dined endlessly on this junk food. TV, of course has made this easy and entertaining. For so many of us, this endless saga has provided the best entertainment in town – a movie that has gone on and on.

But there is a tragedy here. The tragedy for our president is obvious. The tragedy for the rest of us is more subtle; it lies in the reality that we have wasted so much precious time living vicariously. Certainly, our fascination with the peccadilloes of Bill Clinton may enable many of us to consciously feel morally superior to the president, while unconsciously enjoying the excitement of his misbehavior. The deeper truth is that this obsession has merely distracted us from addressing the meaning in our own lives.

We are not stupid. We all know that this new national pastime is neither emotionally nourishing nor spiritually elevating. Yet, sadly, like so many addicts, we have continued to watch with fascination as Clinton’s tragedy has unfolded. Perhaps we are secretly relieved that it is he who is being publicly humiliated, not us, so we can all feel righteous, superior and entertained while we watch safely in the privacy of our homes.

Yet, having asked myself the same question, perhaps it is not unfair of me to ask others, not merely the president: “What have we become?” Scrutiny, like charity, ought to begin in our homes. I think it is time that we all honestly face the passive, voyeuristic truth about our endless peering into the personal life of our president. Even for those of us always thirsty for gossip, there is little juice left – unless we are now unconsciously waiting for the sex to end and the aggression to begin as we watch our president get metaphorically “murdered.”

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this debacle is that, as a nation of individuals, we may learn nothing personally or collectively from it. The truth is, if we are honest with ourselves, we all have a lot to learn from what has happened. I think it is our responsibility – not only to ourselves but also to the next generation – to accept this challenge.

I have learned a few things and I would like to share them in the hope they might be helpful. I would also like to recommend that, in addition to thinking about them ourselves, in the words of the ancient text, “We teach them diligently to our children.” Our children should learn more from all of this than merely a new definition of sex.

Rather than resort to the traditional Ten Commandments, let me offer five suggestions:

  1. PRIVILEGES. Not unlike the president, so many of us who live in Greenwich have extraordinary privileges. The president has taught us that privileges can be dangerous. Without a sense of responsibility, they can result in behavior which is self-indulgent and harmful to others. In fact, the more privileges we have, the more responsibility we should be prepared to assume for ourselves and for others. In a Democracy, we should never expect a free lunch.
  2. RESPECT. Respect must be constantly earned by our behavior. We should never expect our station in life to afford us respect unless our day-to-day behavior merits it. Indeed, the respect we receive should be directly proportional to the way we treat everyone with whom we come in contact, starting with our immediate family. The Ten Commandments requires us to honor our parents. Perhaps, it is equally important that parents not dishonor their children.
  3. GIFTS. So many in this community possess the same gifts as our president: intelligence, physical good looks, charm, etc. These are gifts like coordination or musical ability. They must be appreciated and properly utilized. Otherwise, they will be squandered or can even become dangerous to ourselves and others.
  4. HUMILITY. Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist everything but temptation.” As in Wilde’s case, intelligence alone offers little protection against our basic instincts or our fatal flaws. Indeed, President Jefferson, our current president’s namesake, was correct when he said of democracy what is equally true of an individual: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” This liberty must be based in the humility that recognizes our human frailty and invites us to intelligently guard against our human limitations. This is as true for all of us as it is for President Clinton.
  5. INTEGRITY. We must practice what we preach: this is the essence of integrity. It is valuable to carry a Bible, as King David did. It is more valuable to read it, but it is most valuable to live it. To quote the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” It is so easy to quote this Rule; it is so much harder to live by it. In many ways, that is our greatest daily challenge as human beings. It’s hard to walk the walk!

In conclusion, let’s point our fingers at ourselves for a change. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t entertaining. I know it’s a lot harder than pointing at the president, but this is the only way we can continue to grow. Every crisis offers us a choice. We can move towards righteous superiority and cynicism, or we can recommit ourselves to higher personal values. The choice is ours.