The fact that John Edwards engaged in an extramarital affair rightfully leads us to question his honesty and integrity. Unfortunately, our fascination with these examples of human frailty is also evidence of our own proclivity to engage in denial and double standards.
Commentary By: Daniel DiRito
It’s common knowledge that car accidents cause traffic jams…even after the vehicles involved have been moved to the shoulder of the road. I’ve often wondered what causes us to slow down and gaze out our windows as we pass by. Is it out of concern for the passengers or is it some morbid curiosity as to the carnage?
As I’ve pondered the possibilities, the first image that comes to mind is a herd of zebras, standing and staring with ears perked, as the lion they’ve just eluded puts the finishing clench upon the zebra that didn’t get away. What makes a herd of animals suddenly stop to watch, as their comrade becomes an unwilling victim of the food chain, moments after running frantically for their lives?
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this rather morbid musing, I’ve been looking for a way to make sense of our fascination with John Edwards’ admission that he engaged in an extramarital affair. Let me be clear…I’m troubled by the deceit that preceded the revelation…but I’m more troubled by our seeming inability to focus upon the underlying issues.
You see, John Edwards may be unique in having had the opportunity to run for president of the United States, but his affair puts him on a par with the majority of the American public. The fact that we stop to gawk at him underscores our similarity to a herd of zebras, while our holier-than-thou looks of disdain uncover our propensity for self-forgiving double standards.
As we approach the November election, we’re being confronted by the all too familiar rhetoric that same-sex marriage is threatening to destroy the family. Frankly, this is a manufactured issue that serves the purposes of politicians and preachers and serves as a distraction from what actually ails the family. Truth be told, the preoccupation with same-sex marriage and the affairs of others is the equivalent of watching the zebra in the grasp of the lion. It gives us something to look at while counting our blessings that we avoided capture…not by the lion…but by the discovery of our own undisclosed indiscretions.
Yes, I’ve long argued that gays should be entitled to the same marriage rights afforded to heterosexuals…but I’ve also argued that the institution is at best broken. In fact, I suspect that it is, in its current form, contrary to human nature. In saying as much, I’m not suggesting that we eliminate marriage. At the same time, I’m in favor of beginning the process of an honest assessment of the expectations we attach to our marriages and, therefore, the manner in which they’re created…and dismantled.
Yes, I’m embarking upon an unpopular task that mimics the myth of Sisyphus…but then again…so are most of the individuals who choose to marry. If we admit that pushing the rock over the pinnacle is the equivalent of perfection, we should quickly understand the reason for Sisyphus’ perpetual failure…as well as our own with regard to marriage.
Look, the human heart is fragile…it can fall as fast as it can harden…and in that dichotomy is revealed the precarious nature of love…as well as the inability to predict its path. While the mind can promise the heart, the heart cannot always be expected to abide. That’s a reality we prefer to ignore…until someone’s heart is broken.
Where we miscalculate is in our expectations of ourselves and others…antecedent to our marriages as well as the moment at which we recognize the one we’re in is broken. In each of these moments, rather than acknowledge our human nature, we demand that another defy their own in order to protect the fragility of ours…and visa versa. Yes, this works well on the front end…but it fails miserably at the other.
In many ways, we humans are victims of our own success. In that it provided us with more choices and greater flexibility, it has also diminished our dependence on each other as well as the affiliations we believe we’ll need to form in order to survive (make a living, raise a family, etc). Hence, marriage is no longer the essential sociological glue it used to be. While necessity may be the mother of invention, the lack of necessity has allowed us to reinvent our understandings of the roles we play as mothers…and fathers. As such, we’ve reached the point at which one can choose to be either without the requirement of the other.
On the other hand, this freedom may also provide us with the opportunity to choose our partners absent many of the historical calculations and contrivances. Unfortunately, our actions with regards to relationships seem to lack the full awareness of the evolving terrain. At the same time, there are those who experience this changing dynamic as anxiety which leads them to recoil and call for a return to conventionalism. Unfortunately, rolling back progress is akin to rolling our mythical rocks over the pinnacle. Sadly, the time spent doing so simply detracts from the time we can spend adapting and adjusting our relationships (and the expectations we bring to them) to the current paradigm.
It’s time to admit that the idyllic image of marriage, invoked by those who claim to be its protectors, is no longer the nature of the institution. That which no longer exists cannot be preserved. Notwithstanding, the painfully natural, though imperfect, human emotions that facilitated the creation of marriage will remain…and they warrant our awareness and our embrace. Were we to refocus our efforts upon understanding the essence of these emotions, and establishing our expectations accordingly, perhaps the next announcement of an indiscretion could be met with introspective analysis rather than preoccupied projections.
When the voyeurs are enthralled in watching the lion lay waste to the zebra, the bonds that connect them with those they love are left unattended…hanging perilously exposed…ever ready to attach themselves to the first heart that has taken the time to acknowledge, accept, and allow its innate humanity to flourish. When this happens, the heart of the voyeur is apt to be crushed…not by the lion…but by the weight of its own untenable judgments.
Cross-posted at Thought Theater