comedian and actor, Bill Cosby, has been accused of sexual assault
by 16 women. While these are only unproven accusations, the sheer
number has taken a toll on Mr. Cosby's reputation. Fans who knew
him on television as Cliff Huxstable, the ideal father,
feel seriously disillusioned. His image as a strong, wise, and caring
parent and husband provided us all with a good role-model that seemed
otherwise missing. I grew up knowing him as the serious but cool
Alexander Scott in I-Spy. In both portrayals,
he played characters I'd have liked to know personally. As an outspoken
public speaker, he also raised awareness on serious issues for the
Whether or not
the allegations are true, America has lost another cultural icon,
and it hurts. I am reminded of Mark Antony's quote after
the death of Caesar: "The evil men do live after
them. The good is oft interred with their bones." We
are left with a sudden emptiness.
often cultivated scandals among its elite. But it's not just Hollywood.
We have witnessed a steady stream of political leaders who betrayed
the public trusts as well. From extra-marital affairs, to bathroom
trysts with strangers, to sending obscene photos of themselves online.
No need to list names. We have a gossip-dependent media for that.
Let's not forget
the numerous religious scandals about priests raping children, and
a Church administration doing their best to cover them up. When
I was young, you felt safe leaving your child with a priest. Another
Beyond all these
salacious scandals, we see a ruthlessness among businesses that
contradicts their bright public images. Government constantly staggers
under the weight of corruption, with leaders hiding behind public
faces of supposed integrity. There are preachers who hypocritically
place their political views ahead of religious teachings that are
quite the contrary, wile their hunger for money and fame outweighing
their call to save souls.
One thing common
in all these betrayals is a disdain for truth, and an even greater
disdain for the people who look to them to find it.
It is difficult
to know who to believe. Certainly none of us is perfect, yet for
some reason we expect perfection from those in leadership positions.
This is a persistent formula for disappointment. When we desperately
cling to our idols for guidance, their eventually uncovered imperfections
are devastating. Who can we trust? And if we can't trust anyone,
what does that say about the human condition?
We should not
be surprised at these notable failures. Actors, by profession, hide
themselves behind the characters they portray according to a script
that someone else wrote. To varying degrees, politicians have to
align their words to the expectations, ideologies and prejudices
of those who support them. Preachers are sometimes corrupted by
the power they hold over others. Businesses make profits by enticing
consumers to buy their products. It's all about creating illusions
for personal gain.
The rest of
us are not immune to this behavior, which is why we look from others
for what we fail to discover ourselves.
stands for anything, it is the insistence that each of us stop being
followers of imperfect people and ideologies, and engage the responsibility
of finding truth and virtue for ourselves. Anything less is a surrender
of freedom and an affront to the miracle of life that each of us
represent. We call this developmental process the "quest,"
and consider it rooted in the instinctive aim, or telos, of human
nature. This same message is pointed to by most philosophies, religions
and universal myths. For those of us not familiar with or interested
in philosophy, religion or myth, we can find this same calling deep
in our conscience.
the procurement and existence of virtue in the world is not up to
would-be leaders, here or anywhere else. The responsibility falls
on each of us, and leads to personal fulfillment. The quest symbolizes
a moment: We are alive. We think. We care. With a little effort,
we are capable of discerning right from wrong. Our cognitive experience
of the universe is a universe of itself. What we do with our lives
is a calculated choice. We cannot, we must not, depend on others
to fulfill that obligation. Only we can do that. We are charged
by our own moral nature to become the inspiration that we seek.
We will always
be disappointed when those whom we admire fall. Heroes are only
human. We should not be naïve at what that means. Appreciate
their strong points, yes, but condemn their sins. Do not extend
trust to those who will abuse it.
fall, we are challenged to fill the gap by becoming heroes of our
own - which is what the quest tells us we should have been doing
It is far better to be inspired by a role model than to become a
follower or imitator. One connotes a transformation toward personal
growth and autonomy. The other is a relinquishment of the same.
While we all
have the freedom to be a follower, and many choose that path, it
rapidly becomes a debasement of the human capacity to be free.