Recently, we have seen a handful of elected officials “step up” and speak their moral truth about the current resident of the White House and the political state of our country. Many of us have celebrated, or at least sighed in relief, as someone (other than John McCain) in the president’s party broke silence and spoke from a place of clarity, honesty, and individuality. We have been relieved and have applauded leaders who we may have never imagined applauding. I listened to Jeff Flake’s powerful speech in its entirety. I actually think I even voted for Bob Corker the second time, but have long since stopped applauding him, and instead have felt betrayed by the disappearance of his candor and individuality – even if I didn’t always agree with his position. The guy I voted for showed back up.
We should all pause, however, as more people step up and lead (by retiring) and thus feel “liberated” to speak their truth.
What are we actually seeing? Eventual honesty? Contextual morality? Conditional leadership? When these men are finally “liberated” from the office we elected them to, from the privilege of leading our country, THEN they are honest?! THEN they will speak truth to power? THEN their morals matter?
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad some people are finally speaking up, but let’s be honest about what it tells us about them, and the offices to which they were elected. Their sense of liberation and their delayed and diluted honesty illustrate a clear lack of integrity as it relates to their elected office. Integrity is “what you do when no one is looking” as the saying goes. Integrity is “the choice between what is convenient and what is right” according to former NFL coach Tony Dungy.
When people speak out only when it is convenient (after they’ve announced retirement, for example), they aren’t leading. They are convenient opportunists, moral relativists, demonstrative of the demise of social, cultural, and moral leadership, (and thus representative democracy) that leaves us with corruption, elitism, nepotism, and the perpetual belief that the ends justify the means (making money, getting elected, etc. is the top priority and will compensate for those other pesky problems like integrity).
We need to step back and observe this behavior, like most anything, through the critical lens of how we would talk about it with our children. Would we tell our children: once you are no longer in Ms. Smith’s math class, or after you win the big game, then you should acknowledge that you or another was cheating? Would we tell them to get elected to class president or to any other leadership position no matter what it takes, even if it compromises their values? That they can just attempt recoup their principles once the position is successfully attained – or when they are done with it? Don’t litter if someone is looking? Help someone who needs it only if someone is looking? Do it for the reward? Do it only if it benefits you?
If this sort of self-centered relativism isn’t what we want to teach our children, we should at least recognize that this is what we are modeling for them and currently applauding as leadership.
If instead we want to teach them integrity, we had better start by modeling it ourselves, and then demand it of our leaders. We should not accept, much less celebrate, eventual, conditional, convenient honesty that suggests integrity was dead all along.