Weekend Read: Why Did I Do That?

A man got caught sleeping with a woman who wasn’t his wife. He quit his job over the affair. Bored yet?

Bear with me.

As I was reading the story, I had to double-check the source of the article, who shared it with me, then I want to a reputable news site to confirm it.

You know how those Internets are. By the time you get through the fake, the faux and the fluffy, there is eventually truth in there somewhere.

David Petraeus was cheating on his wife, and he just quit his job. Does the name ring a bell?

Petraeus isn’t some Dwight Schrute or some anonymous regional manager of WidgetCo in Pine Bluff, Arkansas – he was the guy in charge of the CIA.

This guy is a 4-star general. This guy had the ear of two Presidents. This guy ran wars for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus is a heavy.

The resignation comes at what one news report characterized as a “sensitive” time.  The  Obama administration and General Petraeus have had some difficulty defending  security around a building that was attacked by terrorists, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other people. Fox News Channel is feasting on the story. Legitimate news outlets are sniffing around as well, sans polemic.

Here’s the problem. If you and I cheat on our spouse, while tragic and horrible, our actions generally don’t send spies into a kerfuffle.

When you are the director of the CIA and you’re getting laid when you shouldn’t be, it’s a huge deal. You have just made yourself a counterintelligence threat. People could have pictures. People could blackmail you.  This is such a huge deal that General Petraeus could be looking at a court-martial.

We all have a dark side. We all have done or are currently doing things we would prefer never see the light of day. Powerful men have made nightmarish decisions regarding their south of the border regions for centuries.  Conniving women have always used their bodies for power and financial gain, Superhead being a fairly recent example. People lie and cheat and steal, thinking they will get away with it. They (with the exception of Wall Street criminals) always get caught.

Why do we risk everything? What inside us rationalizes these lies ?

Bill Clinton’s poor decision making made me sad. He was a savvy if flawed president, able to triangulate his politics for survival and re-election against a unified and stubborn opposition party. But he brought so much unneeded distraction to an otherwise successful presidency. The cigar and the intern, traded for impeachment.

The questions of ethical behavior we all have to wrangle with are constant.  Maybe you’re pinching five bucks a week out of petty cash for a Subway. No, not world-ending. But maybe you’re fleecing a city out of millions of dollars to finance your horse breeding business. Maybe you’re cheating on the mother of your children who loves you without question or condition.

Nobody makes us do this. We choose to screw up. We are willing to risk humiliation, financial destruction and (sometimes) our credibility as a person for the rest of our lives, and for what?

I have done many things I am ashamed of. We all have. If we could take them back, most of us would gladly do so. But it seemed like a good idea at the time, these transgressions, these sins. What made it so enticing at the outset?

What void in our lives was missing that we needed to fill with dishonesty? And why are we so quick to serve up instant judgment on others who have committed many of the same kinds of deeds as us?

I always respected David Petraeus. He seemed like a decent man, carrying out the sometimes controversial orders of a Republican and a Democratic Commander-in-Chief with honor and loyalty.

But he apparently could not reserve a small bit of loyalty for his wife. Maybe his day job exhausted his available supply.


John Scott is a media instructor, the national online education coordinator and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications , Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels individuals and groups in the art of reinvention. His debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be published soon.

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.






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