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Judging Petraeus

November 15, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

Don’t sit in self-righteous condemnation. We could all make the same mistake.

It’s too easy to judge, to sit in self-righteous condemnation. What was General Petraeus thinking?! How could he throw it all away – his career, his marriage (37 years), his family – for a brief satisfaction of his appetites?

And Ms. Broadwell is a 40 year-old married mother of two. (As in all these situations, it takes two to tango. The men don’t bear the sole responsibility!) What was she thinking? What about her career, and more importantly her husband and young sons – what legacy is she bequeathing to them? How many lives are ruined by these self-indulgent behaviors?

Yes, it’s too easy to judge. How many of us have that an unwarranted confidence that we would never make such a mistake? We are completely superior in our judgment, good sense and ability to withstand temptation.

This attitude is based on illusion.

In Ethics of the Fathers we are warned not to trust ourselves, not to be sure of ourselves until the day we die. This means we are all susceptible. This means that the ability to engage in behavior that is not clearly not in our best interests, that offers only momentary satisfaction, that is in the pursuit of illusory goals dwells within all of us. It’s too easy to talk about them. It could be you and me; it could be any one of us.

Let’s get off our high horses. We could also make their mistakes. We could also lose our bearings. Perhaps the more you accomplish, the more the external accolades, the easier it is to neglect or obscure our inner moral compass. The potential lies within every one of us. You don’t need to be a general or a governor or even an overpaid athlete.

It is too easy to sit in self-righteous condemnation. We are all human and therefore we are all vulnerable.

The first step in preventing such behavior is to recognize the possibility, the potential within all of us. The belief that “it couldn’t happen to me,” the accompanying arrogance and cockiness causes our lower self to lick its lips in anticipation, as it were. We are setting ourselves up for a fall.

But the recognition that I too could falter (God forbid) leads to humility. I am not superior. I am at risk. I need safeguards. I need to be proactive.

We all need to avoid potential minefields, situations that are ripe for trouble. We need to strategize in advance and not wait until we are in the middle of uncomfortable circumstances. (Ethics of Our Fathers also teaches as that a wise man foresees the consequences of his actions, imagines the future and therefore plans ahead.) It’s good to map out a strategy for dealing with office holiday parties, business trips, personal assistants, family friends, neighbors, and, if our lives merit them, biographers!

We need to be on our guard. We need to acknowledge our vulnerability. We need to avoid perilous environments.

Am I overreacting? I don’t think so. Ask the Petraeus and Broadwell families…

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