Revelations, resignations pose hard questions

By now anyone who’s coherent enough to watch the TV screen is aware that a sea change is happening in public life with regard to the relations between men – particularly those in power – and women in the workplace.

Like almost everything that happens in the public arena, legitimate issues are salted heavily with emotion and politics, relations between the sexes can be both interesting and intensely disturbing.

What we’re seeing is the result of human misbehavior that, in many cases, has been kept under wraps for years, if not decades.

The biblical adage “be sure your sin will find you out” that we may have heard as children echoes in the background here.

It’s almost inconceivable that anyone who isn’t a psychopath could justify the behavior that’s been described the women who have poured forth in droves following the “trigger” revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior nearly two months ago.

For a lot of us, it’s become almost fatiguing to hear, nearly every day, about some new paragon of government, business, entertainment or society stepping down in shame after revelations of some impropriety in the past.

Sure, we wonder about the timing of some of these revelations. But whether they are politically motivated does not outweigh the reality that something very real – and wrong –may have occurred in the cases we’re hearing about, on both sides of the aisle.

As with any development of this nature, there might be some silver linings amid dark realities as this plays out.

One positive is it may remind us of our moral sensibilities. No one can deny that our society is becoming increasingly free – permissive – as behaviors that once would have been shocking to the majority have become less so – even commonplace.

Unfortunately, the particular problem we’re referencing here is, probably to the surprise of few, commonplace already. It’s not new.

GQ magazine in 2010 ran a list of “The 25 Greatest Philanderers in American Political History.” It included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Newt Gingrich, Strom Thurmond, Gary Hart, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Warren Harding, Alexander Hamilton, Bill Clinton, Benjamin Franklin, the Kennedy brothers and other business, political and religious luminaries.

Of course, it could also have named most of the kings of Europe, Julius Caesar, Ghengis Khan … the point is pretty clear.

Historian Paul Johnson’s book “Intellectuals” contrasted the public persona with the private lives of many leading philosophers, artists and societal leaders – Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, and others. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

So this isn’t a new problem.

But all this is disappointing, that people we like and respect are fallible.

The question is what to do about it.

And it is a problem. The fact that we daily wake up to new stories of women who say they’ve been harassed

We appreciate that, as heads roll off the guillotine of public condemnation, there are calls for restraint – from women, no less. That’s because reactions based solely on emotions do not always lead to outcomes we’re proud of down the road. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as those who participated in the French Revolution (which, it could be argued, was based more on emotion than on inviolable moral principles) discovered.

We’re certainly not questioning whether wrong has been done in many, if not all, of the situations being described for us.

The fact is, though, the cases we’ve heard about often involve people who are credited with making very positive contributions to society – like many in the lists above.

Without excusing the behavior, is summarily ending what otherwise might be productive and positive service to society due to behavior that is hypocritical – or worse – the right answer? If not, what is right?

These are difficult, uncomfortable questions that, frankly, penetrate to the core of who we are. But they might be good questions for us to consider: how fallible we are.

What is clear is that, whether our reactions are based on objective moral foundations or not, our society in general doesn’t condone people behaving in this way. We especially don’t appreciate hypocrisy.

That’s a positive. We hope it stays that way.