“Your capacity for occasional blunders is inseparable from your capacity to reach your goals.”- Og Madino
“Alas, human vices, however horrible one might imagine them to be, contain the proof of man’s longing for the infinite; but it is a longing that often takes the wrong route. It is my belief that the reason behind all culpable excesses lies in this deprivation of the sense of the infinite.” -Charles Baudelaire
“Your friends will believe in your potential, your enemies will make you live up to it.” ― Tim Fargo
Coincidentally to the story about TV news anchor Brian Williams’ professional transgression, my work place discovered it is facing a comparable situation. Both Mr. Williams and the person in question at work—I’m not liberty to go into certain details, of course, but for the sake of this post, I’ll call them “GH”— got some of us into coffee break conversations about a person’s capacity to un-expectantly do something horribly wrong. Or, absolutely right, for that matter.
It should be noted that GH is in the process of negotiating a short-term contract with my company. They are not an employee. My company was drawn to GH because they are very well-known in our industry. Run an internet search on them and thousands of pages and references will pop up. GH has been around a very long time and has done quite a lot, and almost all of it praise-worthy. But take time to dig a little deeper and you will discover a particularly horrible page in their history. When the company discovered this, we were stunned and amazed. When asked about what we discovered, GH did not disclaim anything, stating it is an unfortunate part of their past, but that it is long removed from who they are by simple virtue of the passage of time.
Mr. William’s professional misconduct and that of GH’s notorious chapter highlight the very real issue that all of us are capable of doing anything at any time under any circumstance. Only as individuals do we think we are anything but able. We read incredible stories of survival and super achievement and wish we were capable of such feats. We hear tales of extreme abuse, murder and acts of such violence and brutality that we think, thank God we couldn’t possibly do anything like that.
But could we? Soldiers are trained to take life; they are made capable by various means in order to act upon their singular license to kill. A parent witnesses the life-threatening peril of a child and suddenly springs into action, regardless the circumstances. Take the story of the mother, who is terrified of water and cannot swim, not hesitating a second before diving into the pool and not only successfully rescuing her foundering child, but swims both she and her child to the safety of a dry pool deck.
I am fascinated with the bigger picture of what a person is capable of doing, the compromises their circumstances seemingly force them to make, and how they face their culpability. However, beyond the fascination of the circumstances that drives a person to do something extraordinary, particularly if the deed is egregious, is the issue is trust. As the multitude of tweeters, FB posters, bloggers and panels of experts are emphasizing in regards to Mr. Williams, it is this issue alone that makes it so difficult for any of us to know how to judiciously conclude what to do with a problem like Brian Williams.
Can Williams be trusted to confront sources about their truthfulness if his has been so blatantly compromised? Can my company’s reputation be upheld after it is discovered we contracted with someone with a known notorious chapter in their life? The many concert cancellations after Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual assaults were disclosed bears witness to the weight a place of business gives to its reputation, as well as the trust given to them by their customers and clients. Both NBC and my company are caught in this particular dilemma.
When stories of contravention surface about a person we believe to be essentially good—or, more to the point, who we expect to be above reproach—we often react with disbelief. And then we get to the tricky business of analyzing what exactly it is we are facing in light of the jarring news. Do we forgive and forget and embrace the live-and-let-live ethic? If they are accused of a crime, as in Mr. Cosby’s case, then probably not. With a monarch’s voice, society tends to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. What if it is something clearly irresponsible, possibly even something that has put someone or thing at risk, but in the long run is only proved a misdemeanor? What if it is a fall from grace, as with Mr. Williams, but not actually a crime? That’s when the issue of trust makes it hard to decide what to do. While everyone loves a comeback kid, and we are all taught to forgive, not everyone is willing to let someone who has betrayed a trust the chance to begin again. Trust is nearly impossible to regain once lost.
Because we are capable of so much more than we allow, good and bad, we ought to respect the possibility that, given the situation and circumstances, we may not only be entirely capable, but be completely willing to do something completely out of character. We must remember to never ignore our emotional state of mind; for it is there that we find both the angels and demons that drive us forward, one way or the other. And we must always remember that someone’s trust will be broken in the end.
But, let’s stop feigning surprise when any human soul demonstrates that they are capable of any number of unexpected things. Let’s praise them when they surprisingly achieve something great, and let’s express genuine disappointment, even clap them in irons and send them to prison if they do something reprehensible. And let’s be forthright and tell them they have betrayed our trust. By all means. But let’s not act as if, in the realm where all things are possible, however seemingly improbable, it absolutely couldn’t happen.