March 2008

Dear Friends:

Last month, I mused about humility. Who would have thought it... that Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York and Client 9 of the Emperors Club VIP, would offer such a sad and pertinent illustration of the opposite of humility: hubris and its aftermath.

As I have discussed this tragedy with friends on Wall Street and others, I hear an interesting subtext repeated regularly. Most are not troubled by the actual bad behavior but rather by the seeming contradiction of his behavior given Spitzer's crusading style and judgmental actions toward others. The former Governor railed against corporate evil doers and even spoke out against prostitution rings. He referred to himself as a 'steamroller' and threatened to take down any and all who stood in his way. My friend and mentor, John Whitehead, experienced the wrath of Mr. Spitzer in an unpleasant exchange last year. Whitehead, former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs among his many accomplishments, stands alone on Wall Street for his integrity and kindness. The fact that Spitzer would attack and threaten John for urging the prosecutor to be measured and careful lest he destroy good companies and reputations, is telling.

So what exactly bothers us about this situation? I would simply claim that it is the hypocrisy. Last August, Mr. Spitzer actually gave a speech informed by one of my favorite theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr. Striking that, in that presentation, the notion of hubris was raised with a discussion of its dangers. As Washington Post writer Ruth Marcus noted in that speech, "Mr. Spitzer's focus was foreign policy, but his point was broader than that--and prescient. ‘Driven by hubris,' he said, 'we become blind to our own fallibility and make terrible mistakes.' The Greeks could not have put it better."

The origins of the notion of hypocrisy come from a first century religious group in Jerusalem. Jesus saved his harshest criticism not for the sinners who knew they were flawed and in need, but rather for those who led lives of pretense. They 'appeared' to do the 'right' things, yet behind that façade was another dark story. Further, the scriptures again and again speak out against judgment...judging others. We all fall prey to that delicious pastime and yet it is wrong...perhaps, more wrong that anything else.

When I was 17, I memorized a passage of scripture that continues to challenge me to look first at my own life before I throw stones at others, even the likes of former Governor Spitzer. Read it aloud a few times and consider the profundity of its message.

"Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge
of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you
are. You are in no position to do so. For at whatever
point you judge others, you judge yourself, since
you the judge commit the same sins."
Romans 3:9-10

As a young White House staffer during the Reagan years, I found myself one day in a smallish room off of the oval office. (yes, the same one that became quite well known during a later administration). Present were the troika, Chief of Staff James Baker, former attorney General Edwin Meese and the late Michael Deaver, head of White House Communications...and for some inexplicable reason....I. What struck me most profoundly about that hour was the kindness and lack of judgment of President Reagan. Anytime one of his political enemies, such as Senator Kennedy, was mentioned in some less than flattering way, the President would strongly speak up and point out their virtues and fine traits, and in Kennedy's case, how that remarkable family had suffered. I counted at least four times that he acted so nobly. I wandered back to my office with the thought in my mind, 'I want to be like that.'

The Spitzer moment offers a teachable opportunity for me. Doug, look within, change yourself first. Our nation is a contradiction on so many levels. One that jumps out is that fact that we are the most permissive society ever, and yet-the most judgmental.

Change must begin with me. The bar is high, ’love your enemies.'

Judge not, lest you be judged. A lot to think about.

 

Thanks Eliot for the reminder.

Doug

 

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