Being Honorable in the 21st Century

…..Weiner, Spitzer, Woods, Schwarzenegger, and some French guy namedsend-button Strauss-Kahn … imagine the problems we would be wading through now if John Edwards would have found his way to the White House in 2008 … Alas, they all have a common denominator. They are human beings, not only capable of failure but prone to it.


Anthropology is the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans. Western culture has given anthropologists a treasure trove of research material in just the last year. Unfortunately, the subjects producing such data come from the elite, the distinguished; our social icons.

In a recent National Review Online piece titled Anthony Weiner and the New Renaissance, Kathryn Jean Lopez writes a brilliant defense of those of us in society who are not, among other things – “X-rated Tweeters“. As a backdrop Ms. Lopez uses the teachings of the Pontifical College Josephinum as a social metaphor that ties modern day scandal and disgrace within the leadership of the Catholic Church with those of our secular leaders that have had their own fall from grace. While Anthony Weiner makes it into the title, she opts not to pile on to his particular issues but rather focuses on societies’ need for solid leaders as well as the desire for a certain “infectious” display of character that provides the foundation for such leadership. Consider how the Josephinum indoctrination message is presented:

“A renaissance priest is confident, a man of virtue and has right judgment and temperament. He is a man of his word, a man formed by culture in the best sense. He knows who he is, he has a sense of mission, and is not afraid to be a man. The renaissance priest inspires a sense of awe, mystery, and curiosity. He has his act together and makes other men think twice about what it means to be a man. He is not arrogant, disconnected, unmanly, or of poor humor. He does not shrink from people. He is not insecure about himself, and does not hide behind something else that is strong.” (Father James Weyner, STD, Josephinum)


With these words, Father Weyner speaks to those who want to enter the priesthood, the next generation of leaders within the Catholic Church. But what if one were to replace the words “renaissance priest” or “he” in every instance; she, my leader, my politician, my boss, my teacher, etc. This would shed a far different light on secular leadership.

Father Weyner also poses some prescient questions that are critical in the journey to “renaissance priesthood”. Regrettably, similar questions would be derided in our pop culture if they were posed to our secular leaders. They are especially salient in light of recent events as they become key to knowing what one is getting in terms of the character and core values of those who seek to lead, render judgment, or simply be emulated.

How are we spending our time? What habits occupy our daily routines? Whether we’re congressmen or kids, what and to whom are we tweeting and why? What are we doing in our down time? Where are we browsing? Would we be afraid if someone found out? (Weymer)

Think about those questions and then apply them to these names: Weiner, Spitzer, Woods, Schwarzenegger, and some French guy named Strauss-Kahn. Taken one step further, imagine the problems we would be wading through now if John Edwards had found his way to the White House in 2008. One can only speculate the magnitude of social/moral/legal mess we would have been left to sort through. Alas, they all have a common denominator. They are human beings, not only capable of failure but prone to it. In each case however, an untouchable ego fed their weakness. It would be surprising to know that any of these men had an inner circle capable of providing bare knuckled counsel to keep the concept of honor close at hand, and the act of being humanly stupid at bay. One has to wonder how many more of these situations are in process and not yet uncovered. Regrettably, I think it would be terribly discouraging to know.

In spite of these failures of important and influential men – we will survive. I fear however, for our culture. History has shown that today’s scandals become old news rather quickly and moral failure sans humility or atonement somehow become resume enhancements under the heading of personal strength, faux contrition, and resilience. Witness the ho-hum reaction in France to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s alleged behavior and subsequent indictment. Back home in the US, image experts are already sounding off as to how the Honorable Anthony D. Weiner, (D) Congressman – NY 9th District can weather the storm and retain his power. Pretty pathetic when you think about it, isn’t it. What’s even more troubling is that a majority of his constituents find his behavior acceptable enough to continue calling him “honorable”.

If only there was a way we could know the answers to Father Weyner’s deepest questions amid the less invasive ideological and policy ones that typically get asked.  We’ve been conditioned to accept the public image of our prospective leaders’ at face value. There is a fine line in our culture when it comes to questioning someone’s character.

Our culture presents us with a great conundrum when it comes time to choose. We’re attracted primarily to the manufactured image; the way they look and sound, and secondarily because of what they’ve produced and represented in the past. But at the end of the day, its those quiet character issues, those habits that occupy their quiet moments that tend to shape the person that does our bidding behind closed doors

On a personal scale, a bookcase or a bottle of wine often exposes this quiet side. A  bookcase can tell a lot about what goes into someone’s mind and a couple glasses of good wine opens up dialogues that otherwise would never be broached. Many times the questions that never get asked – often get answered.

I wish the best for the previously mentioned men that have fallen prey to their own frailties. At one time all of them had much to offer society. Not to be overly hard on Congressman Weiner, but what happens to him is less a matter for Anthony Weiner than it is a matter for the fabric of American culture when we face our next social fiasco where honorable leadership is compromised.


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