As Anthony Weiner’s life quickly descends from comedy to tragedy, there are some important lessons we can learn from his woes.
1) Sometimes shame is a good thing. It’s great to be able to bounce back from failure, to refuse to throw in the towel when the going gets rough, to persevere to the finish line when everyone is telling you to quit, to look failure in the face and say, “I’m still standing!”
In fact, an indomitable, never-say-die spirit has been the hallmark of some of the greatest leaders and athletes and achievers in history. That’s what made them who they are.
But there are times when it is good to throw in the towel -- at least for a season -- and when a little shame could go a long way, especially in this generation that has forgotten how to blush.
In this perverse day in which people gain celebrity through sex tapes and gladly embarrass themselves on reality TV for the world to see, it would be truly refreshing to see someone genuinely mortified by their moral failures, contrite rather than combative, recognizing the need to get out of the public eye for an extended period of time while they rebuild their lives.
Americans are a very forgiving people, but we are not total fools, and we would much more readily embrace someone who, in biblical terms, brought forth fruit in keeping with repentance and demonstrated the evidence of a humble, changed life than with someone who seemed to have no shame.
2) There is more to life than a successful career. Public figures thrive on their public identity, and they often do better expressing themselves to a crowd than to an individual. And those who have political ambitions are sometimes so internally driven that they are energized by self-promotion. So, it was not a complete shock to see Anthony Weiner begin his campaign for New York City mayor so soon after his sexting fall.
But it was certainly a sad sight to see, as if he had no life outside of politics and no meaning or purpose outside of a public career.
And Weiner is hardly the only one to fall into the trap of confusing one’s identity and worth with one’s public persona and achievements, making it easy to forget that personal integrity is the substance of life and personal relationships the fabric of life.
As Holocaust survivor Victor Frankel documented in his research, rich and famous Jews who were shipped off to the camps tended to lose hope and deteriorate more quickly than those Jews whose primary identity was as mother or father or sibling. The former lost all identity when they went from public figure to mere cipher; the latter had their families to live for.