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Perennial Disappointment

Popular 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 black community.

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.

Hollywood has 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 illusion burst.

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.

If Chivalry-Now 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.

Quite simply, 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 this process.

Consider for 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.

When heroes 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 right along.

Remember. 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.

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