Last week, in response to the scandal that ended with former state Senator Artiles’ resignation, I wrote about excuses. I made a point of legitimizing certain claims to be excused even as I argued that other claims failed to justify release from the consequences of one’s actions.
Even as I wrote it, I felt the pang of a guilty conscience.
The scandal swirling around former Senator Artiles was all about words. And while there are some things I’ve never said, some words I know that I’ve never used, my slate is not clean. There have been times when I have spoken in ways I came to regret.
In other words, I live in a glass house. So perhaps I shouldn’t have thrown stones.
There’s a certain reluctance to tackle bad behavior in others because we know that we have been guilty of it ourselves. None of us want to be shown to be hypocrites. This fear of public shaming is made more potent by our certain knowledge that we deserve the title.
I’m not suggesting that all of us are guilty of all the offensive behaviors one might criticize in public life. I’m only asserting (with a high degree of confidence) that each of us has a behavioral “closet” within which lurks behaviors we would not wish revealed to the world.
They may be isolated moments, atypical of our general conduct. Or they may be persistent and disturbing patterns of less-than-noble behavior. Either way, they would prove an embarrassment and a rebuke to our high-toned challenge to another’s words or deeds.
Part of the drama last week surrounding former Senator Artiles’ fall from grace involved rumors and allegations that if his offensive comments were going to become a cause célèbre, others would soon find themselves in the unwonted glare of the spotlight of shame.
Whatever the ultimate reasons, such threats failed to get the spotlight off of Artiles.
“Everybody’s doing it” is a classic rationalization, a standard and illegitimate defense of inappropriate conduct. The more sinister form of this rhetorical strategy, that others’ misconduct also will be exposed if the offender must deal with his/her own, simply adds a fear of reporting the offense to the standard “everyone’s doing it” plea. And the coercive tone is twofold: I will expose you, and you will be seen to be a hypocrite.
So . . . don’t throw stones.
But throwing stones and speaking important truth are very different things. The adage about glass houses was meant as counsel against arrogance and vindictiveness, not honesty. Revealing the hidden truth to disarm a bully or right an injustice is, at very least, a noble thing. It might also be a morally necessary thing, even if our own houses might be shattered by revelations of our own failings.
Precisely because none of us lives perfectly, we must be willing to speak truths that can hurt us in the process of righting other wrongs. Otherwise, the truth will never be spoken, and something more than our brittle-as-glass reputations will be permanently shattered.