The scandal du jour in my country surrounds a passel of privileged folks, two of whom are TV stars, bribing corrupt college officials to admit their privileged children to famous universities—kids who would never otherwise have been accepted. String ‘em up! Right? (Which is what the media and public are currently doing to their careers.)
We love to see the privileged taken down. That’s our way with idols: first we worship them, then we grind them down to make new gods. Does anyone have a get-out-of-scandal-free card? Yes, members of underprivileged minorities can sometimes play that card—unless they’ve harmed the wrong people (children, the poor, the disabled, other minorities). But the rich and the famous? Never!
But here’s the problem: We’re all bad guys. All of us have sinned against society, friends or family at one point or another; there is no one who consistently does what’s right—no one. All of us have done things that, were we just a bit more famous, would be public scandals. Even our most venerated heroes are seriously flawed. Icons of goodness like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have each been “exposed” at some point for sins they really did commit. (Heck, even Atticus frickin’ Finch is revealed in the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird to be cranky and a little bit racist!)
So, when I heard about TV stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman being caught up in this college scandal (and now, possibly Ms. Huffman’s husband of 30+ years, William H. Macy, whom I’ve met and greatly admire), I was more than a little disappointed. I mean, Lori is so damn pretty, and such a symbol of wholesome motherhood. And Felicity is such a brilliant actress (a member of “my tribe,” no less)!
But perhaps the greatest damage done by public scandals is the way so many people use them to deceive themselves about their own goodness: “Hah! Well, at least I’m not like that!” Which is why we like melodramas with good-good guys taking down bad-bad guys.
Because now the world’s a better place, right?
Well, yes and no. Certainly, taking down those with permanently seared consciences, like Hitler, Stalin, or even Brenton Tarrant (the man who murdered fifty people and wounded as many in New Zealand), is necessary.
But for the privileged caught up in scandals? The best thing that can happen is for them to confess their wrongdoings (see Chuck Colson), to be real and transparent with the public and themselves, and to make restitution.
And for us to forgive them.
And the next thing is for us to identify with them (privilege is only a veneer—“they” is us) and learn from their failings. It’s the perfect time for us confess to those whom we’ve wronged (and we’ve all wronged people), to be real and transparent, to make restitution wherever possible. And that might just make the world…
A better place.