Covert Oops!

by Joanie Butman

This past week offered a glut of examples in regard to the importance of choosing wisely – some good, some bad – as is always the case. Ironically, it is usually the bad ones that are deemed newsworthy. Perhaps that is because humans are so susceptible to moral relativity. Seeing someone else royally screw up his or her life makes us feel better about our own. Hence, the popularity of reality TV. It is tempting to compare our own actions to others and fool ourselves into thinking “I’m not so bad.” That kind of thought process can justify almost any questionable behavior. I’ve used it quite effectively over the course of my own life. In fact, there have been times I made myself look downright ‘saintly.’ Only to myself, of course, as that would have been a tough sell to anyone else. No one can deny that as a species, humans tend to relish witnessing a dramatic fall from grace (especially from those in lofty positions) – not one of our more attractive propensities. Why else would I read the police notes every week with fascination? Partly because I am so relieved no one in my family is in it - at  least, not as of this writing.

The most obvious Choose Wisely example of the week has got to be the Petraeus affair. Same old story: as far back as Biblical times, history is riddled with love triangles. King David, a moniker Petraeus recently earned, had multiple wives and still he couldn’t resist going to great lengths to satisfy his desire for Bathsheba. It is an all too familiar scenario: smart, talented, powerful man starts thinking with the wrong organ and “Voila!” He is then surprised to find himself in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

The Petraeus scandal is another one of those times where you just have to wonder, “What was he thinking?” I guarantee he’s asking himself the same question. The obvious answer, “He wasn’t – at least not with his brain.” It is so predictable. Once that organ takes over, the brain ceases to function properly. There is a litany of famous men who have succumbed to that condition. In fact, there are so many historic examples it amazes me that anyone in a position of power still falls prey to this kind of enticement. It must be true that power is an aphrodisiac.

Even with all that said, the difference in the Petraeus case is the way he handled it, which should be an example to all of us. His integrity, though damaged, revealed itself in his willingness to admit his lapse of judgment and take full ownership of his actions without trying to candy coat them. He was quick to enforce the same code of honor to which he held those under him. Even in failure he leads by example. His resignation was swift as was his contrition. Still, I always wonder in situations such as these whether the person is genuinely sorry for his actions or just sorry he got caught – probably both in this case.

Regardless, one would hope that his humble, no-nonsense response would save us (and his family) from having to hear every sordid detail, but nothing sells better than a good sex scandal. I’m convinced it’s because:

  1. We are a smutty bunch.
  2. It makes our own indiscretions pale in comparison, puffing up our opinions about ourselves – maybe even a touch self-righteous as if any of us aren’t capable of the same.

It is surprising that a brilliant military strategist didn’t use his own reasoning of “tell me how this ends” in regard to the inner battle that must have been raging before he crossed the line into dangerous territory. After all, did the head of the CIA really think no one was going to find out? That doesn’t seem like good intelligence.

On more than one occasion this week, Petraeus was likened to King David in the press. Just as King David 'learned from his mistakes because he accepted the suffering they brought', I believe the general will return stronger and wiser as a result of his public and private disgrace to lead again and fulfill his destiny. The consequences of King David’s actions were not isolated and neither are Petraeus’. I think the fallout remains to be seen, and we will probably never know the extent of collateral damage his choices caused.

The lessons we can learn from King David and General Petraeus are intelligence of the best kind (as painful lessons usually are) and are well worth remembering:

  1. No one is immune to temptation. (Refusal to acknowledge this just leaves you all the more vulnerable.)
  2. Everyone makes mistakes.
  3. A willingness to honestly admit our mistakes is the first step in dealing with them. (This is a direct quote from my Bible but is close to number five in Petraeus’ own Rules for Living.)
  4. Forgiveness does not remove consequences.*
  5. Genuine repentance leads to healing and restoration.*

I would be remiss not to mention the glut of conspiracy theories being tossed around. Most of them are cinema worthy but not based on fact – yet. I agree there is usually more to any story than meets the eye, but whether we ever learn the whole truth and nothing but the truth remains to be seen. Maybe General Petraeus is exactly who he claims – a stand-up guy who violated his own code of honor; OR, maybe he chose to throw himself under the bus for other reasons. Either way, it is safe to say bad choices always seem to come back to haunt you – eventually. Choose wisely!

One final point, when self-righteousness rears its ugly head (and no one is exempt from this impulse either), I choose to remind myself of John Bradford's famous line, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." The amount of times God has saved me from myself are too numerous to count, and those are just the instances I recognize. There are thousands of others when I wasn't even aware of His saving grace. The fact that I am sitting here today is proof. When you truly understand your own capacity for transgressions of all kinds, it is a lot easier to extend mercy and grace to others. 

* Life Application Bible, NIV, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, 467.