A sensational scandal has galvanized the attention of the American public in recent days. The ever expanding cast of characters involves a four star general who is now the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Others include the love-besotted biographer of the aforementioned, a socialite from Tampa, and still another four star general.
The whole tawdry affair could be relegated to the pages of tabloid journalism, were it not for the fact that important matters are at stake, including a possible breach of national security, the increasingly alarming problem of sexual misconduct at all levels in the military, and the indignities suffered by family members who are the innocent victims of irresponsible behavior.
At the center of the mess is David Petraeus, America’s most beloved and trusted war hero in recent times. Designated “King David” by some of his troops in Iraq, General Petraeus pushed for and then led the surge in Afghanistan. In the process, he earned the respect of the nation, becoming for many the embodiment of integrity and leadership. Now, it seems that somewhere along the way to greatness, he lost himself.
I think of the original King David, a victorious public figure who, like Petraeus, came to the conclusion that he was not bound by the ethical standards to which other mortals were bound. His is a sad, sordid story that began with his seeing Bathsheba bathing and then sending his subordinates to bring her to him. Later, he arranged for her husband to be on the front lines so that he would be killed in battle. After Uriah’s death, David brought the widow into his house. He heaved a sigh of relief that he had gotten away with what he had done. Soon, however, he learned that there were consequences. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the house of David suffered for years to come. The specific details of the two David stories vary considerably. The common theme is that two gifted people allowed their egos to bloat up their pride to the point of becoming a law unto themselves.
I am not in favor of sending out morality squads to scrutinize leaders with regard to their personal conduct, but I do believe that any time people in positions of power and authority decide that they are in a separate category from everyone else, bad stuff can happen. Any time a leader puts personal interest over public interest, there are consequences, both personal and public. There is a moral tilt to the universe which pride ignores to its peril.
In this age of out-of-bounds egos, it might be good for all of us, leaders and followers alike, to sit ourselves down in front of an imagined grandmother who puts her hand on her hips, looks over the top of her spectacles, and reminds us of the wisdom of the ages,
Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
In this age of bad behavior, it might also be good to attend to the advice of that great American Mark Twain,
Always do right. This will gratify your friends and astonish the rest.
Rev. Joanna Adams