Yesterday, a rather unexpected and amazing thing occurred. My office received a call from a gentleman who lives in Albuquerque, NM. He had searched for me online and somehow found the current office number. He wanted to reach out because he had been going through some old papers and found a copy of a column of mine that was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican paper in 2004 with the headline “Understand Boundaries When Dealing with Power.” He said he was stunned how current the piece was in reflecting the state of affairs in this country today and just wanted to let me know how much he appreciated my work. I was deeply touched and after re-reading it myself, decided to share it here with you – just as it appeared then.
Dear Olive: I heard you on the radio Sunday morning in Los Angeles. It was like your voice reached through my car radio and grabbed me. That’s never happened. I’ve already ordered your book for several family members for Christmas, but wanted to write and thank you for many things you said about hope, taking care of myself first, and setting boundaries. That got me. I loved what you said about making choices good for me, how this election is so much about that. You were so honest about the meanness that’s been thrown around. Sometimes I feel ill from the endless lies and manipulation by the current administration that started way before campaigning began. When I heard you address concerns as an ethicist for the lack of moral outrage at our current president’s four-year span of arrogance, I was relieved that finally someone who didn’t seem to have an ax to grind was willing to tell the truth. Thank you for speaking to that and for offering some hope to surviving whatever happens. My husband and I are scared right now about what’s happened to our country since the rigged election in 2000. Is there anything else you can tell me to help us get through this? It’s hard to believe so many Americans have bought into the lies and don’t seem to question what’s been done to our standing in the world or our economy that’s left us with a huge deficit. Would you talk more about power? – A.
Dear A: Wow! Where to begin? First, let me say thanks for listening. I’m always gratified when a conversation on the air is helpful. While I try whenever possible to not let my objectivity and work as an ethicist be politicized, the line has become more blurred since my book came out. I”m being asked for direct ethical opinions on the actions and choices of bush and others. Pathetically, viewing the morass they’ve lied us into, there’s little I can point to that illustrates genuine respect, fairness or integrity.
Thus, it’s come down to basic values, not partisanship. Instead of exhibiting a willingness to talk about and be accountable for results, they’ve resorted to smearing, lying about and distorting the past rather than directly answering to their part in the present and future. During this past week, they were still bragging about how well the war was going. Is it possible they’re in some parallel universe? And what makes that attitude unconscionable is the deliberate use of ear to control while blaming everyone else.
How did the lines become blurred? Partly because the appropriate, sacred boundaries between personal and partisan, private and public, and church and state have been blown full of holes since this administration came into power. And that puts this ethical hot potato right into my court, for it involves manipulation, power and the misuse of it. Responsible Power ™, a concept I created in the 1980s, is a state in which one is accountable for the impact their actions and words have on the world. Clearly, that does’t describe this administration.
I share your concerns for the low depth of mean spiritedness, Machiavellian distortion and smear tactics that have been launched by an administration whose actions debase the core ethical issue of respect. True respect rests upon a foundation of tolerance, acceptance and honesty. Unfortunately, many of the positions the current administration has taken on critical matters have obliterated those values. Name it: health care, the environment, the economy, or diplomacy. And while a much-too-large proportion of the media, now controlled by a handful of large corporations, has relinquished its critical responsibility to provide objective reporting, some voices still dare to address reality and responsibility.
In the midst of more bad news, The Washington Post on October 24th issued a dramatic endorsement of John Kerry by stating: “We…fault Mr. Bush for exaggerating to the public the intelligence given him privately and for alienating allies unnecessarily. Above all, we fault him for ignoring advice to better prepare for postwar reconstruction. The damage caused by that willful indifference is incalculable…In much of the world k in fact, U.S prestige is at a historic low, partly because of the president’s high-handed approach to allies on issues ranging far beyond Iraq. These failings have a common source in Mr. Bush’s cocksureness, his narrow circle and his unwillingness to adapt to new facts. These are dangerous traits in any president but especially in a wartime leader.”
I agree that there’s no place or arrogance in true diplomacy, and yet that is the mark of this man. The whole world has experienced it, scorned it, rejected it and laughed at it, wanting nothing more to do with it. Thus our nation now finds itself in a place it’s never been: disrespected, disliked, and lacking credibility. For that is what disdain, distortion and arrogance breed. Just like those who pt themselves above the law, this team acts out in a way that suggest they are the law. In doing so, they seem to have forgotten they work for us.
Why and when does a person behave this way? When they’re insecure, scare and power hungry. Yet we’ve seen behavior that goes even further, moving into overt ruthlessness. Karl rove and Dick Cheney have earned reputations as men who will stop at nothing to get or keep what they want. People of integrity who are comfortable with themselves, respectful of others and at ease with genuine power don’t act that way. They don’t need to use fear to take or hold onto control. That’s where Responsible Power begins and right now, that’s not what’s running our country.
In the face of this, where is the moral outrage? Why, given basic irrefutable facts regarding WMDs, the economy and the largest deficit that didn’t exist four years ago along with other key issues, have so many chosen to follow this Pied Piper who’s already taken us over the cliff several times? And on a personal level, how do we deal with the presence of irrational blindness? How do we survive our country’s stroll down a slippery slope that uses and manipulates faith as a raison d’être to justify mistakes?
Well, first we get out the vote. We offer our efforts to make sure polling places are fairy observed and abuses immediately reported to hot lines set up to help stave misdeeds and intimidation. Beyond that, however, we have to resort to the only thing we totally own and control. Our own Inner Bottom Line® and our most cherished beliefs and values.
We all have a grave responsibility and opportunity to right the ship and get our country back on track. If we can remove ourselves from emotion and face some hard truths about our individual lives without buying into the subjective and crippling issues of fear of the unknown, we can find our way to effect some real and desperately needed changes in our leadership and direction. Anyone who’e knowingly lied to us and used fear to buy our allegiance and loyalty is surely not a person of integrity or honor. Nor is he a person who deserves to continue to receive our respect and trust. Honesty. Intention. Credibility. Trust. That’s what’s on the table for us to discern and choose. Olive
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. A syndicated column on personal choices and ethical dilemmas. The Inner Bottom Line® is a trademark of Olive Gallagher. Gallagher is founder and CEO of Personal Best®, lives in Santa Fe and is the author of the newly released book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life.™
Copyright Olive Gallagher. 2004 All rights reserved. www.theinnerbottomline.com.
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