Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Courage, Confession, & The Good Ol' Days

"Those who do learn from revisionist history will be doomed to not repeat it." 

- The Fictional Version of Gen. David Petraus 
Invented In My Imagination, Nov. 2012

Gabe Lyons had a great post today over on the wonderful (my favorite) blog he co-founded, Q Ideas. I enjoyed it, and concurrently took issue with it as well, to the extent that I even chose to write a lengthy comment in response. This post is actually an adaptation of that comment. 

In the brief article Lyons clearly and articulately made a case that David Petraus did a brave thing: confess his sins publicly and own up to the consequences voluntarily. I loved the courage that Lyons himself showed by headlining the article: Courageous Petraus.

If you consider the entirety of the Petraus scandal, his confession really was brave. I've been thinking the same thing ever since I read these words from his resignation letter, quoted in Lyons' article (emphasis his): 

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as [Director, CIA]. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.
It is rare to see someone genuinely confess like that in such a public way. Let me be clear that I admire his courage in that respect. I also admire the author's insight into calling our attention to it. 

However, Lyons' last paragraph... 
That takes courage. Not only to acknowledge the affair, but to call it "unacceptable" and give it the gravitas as an act unbecoming of a public leader. It beckons me back to the old days—when right was right, wrong was wrong and when both sin and redemption were part of our common language. 

I'm trying to figure out which version of human history Lyons is reading. In which "old days" did human beings consistently think and behave in a manner where "right was right, wrong was wrong, and... both sin and redemption were part of our common language"? Was it when the children of wealthy slaveowners and their slave mistresses were shipped off to avoid the social revelation of their "unnatural" behavior? Was it when King David arranged for the assassination of one of his military leaders in order to cover up his own extramarital affair? Or perhaps in Eden, when our forebears set the standard for "both sin and redemption [as] part of our common language" by 1) hiding in the bushes, 2) blaming each other and a snake, 3) having children who would go on to compete with and lie to and kill each other, and 4) repeat the fig-leafing of our sins for generations and millennia? 

Petraus' confession stands out, not because it is a shining example of good-old-fashioned values that are rare to the modern world, but because it actually subverts our most natural, ancient impulse: to call wrong "right" in hopes that we can cover up, slink off, cop out, run away, and get off easy. By all means, let's soberly celebrate a leader who has the wherewithal to confess his sins. Let's just not make the mistake of adopting a revisionist history that we might be doomed to not repeat.