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.
3) Spousal forgiveness is a costly gift not to be despised, but restoration takes time. If Huma Weiner truly loves her husband and is sincere in stating that she has forgiven him -- in other words, if this is not simply a matter of political posturing -- then she should be commended rather than despised.
Yes, it is terribly humiliating for her and yes, to her critics, it makes her look like a spineless, co-dependent woman. But that level of love and commitment is exactly what marriage is about, and it is something all too rare in this day of meaningless marriage vows.
At the same time, to restore a broken marriage and a sex-addicted life takes time and effort, and barring divine intervention of some kind, it requires serious professional help. The very fact that Weiner bounced back to politics so quickly -- and on quite a big stage at that -- was a likely sign that the deeper issues had not been adequately addressed.
Serious wounds do not heal overnight, and now, with even more destructive revelations surfacing by the day, we can only wonder if the forgiveness extended by his wife will be trampled on as well.
4) Any one of us could become “Carlos Danger.” It’s one thing to be caught doing shameful things, like having an affair or sleeping with prostitutes. It’s another thing to assume an alternate identity like “Carlos Danger” in the midst of it. What kind of person does that? And where in the world did Weiner come up with that name?
Yet Weiner has no monopoly on foolishness and perversion, and those of us who think we could never do such idiotic, ugly things might be too self-righteous for own good. At the risk of sounding like some moralizing preacher -- actually, I don’t mind sounding like that at all -- we should ask ourselves to what extent we are guilty of similar things, just on a smaller, less extreme, more private basis.
Have you ever sent out emails or texts that were subtly flirtatious? Have you regularly looked at images at that were inappropriate but just "not that bad?" Have you been unfaithful to your spouse with your eyes or your heart? And do you ever live a double life on any level, between work and home or between real-life personality and online personality?
Those who mercilessly mock Weiner might soon find themselves looking in the mirror at the next “Carlos Danger.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.