You probably despair, as I do, when you read of the latest sexual scandal involving a religious leader. You probably sigh, as I do, when you read of the latest sexual scandal involving a political or cultural leader. (Let’s leave economic scandals for another time.) Have we reached the point where we don’t even bat an eyelash when a sexual scandal involves the guy next door? In fact, have we reached the point that we consider those who would use the word scandal in that context, out-of-touch, old-fashioned and prudish?
This past Sunday, the New York Times Sunday Styles section ran a disturbing question and answer in Philip Galanes’ Social Qs column. I may be dating myself, but I can remember when a column with that type of title would have answers by Emily Post or Miss Manners. Those columns dealt with issues such as friends not responding to an invitation or what to do with a pal who never seems to have her wallet with her when you get together for lunch.
In contrast, the June 21, 2015 column of Social Qs, a feature meant to, “provide help with your awkward situation(s),” included a question by someone whose four-year-old son’s babysitter was propositioned by the married father of another toddler. The awkwardness arises because the parents of the two toddlers have become friendly and, “…there will be a huge elephant in the room,” the next time they meet.
To Mr. Galanes’ credit, he does tell the letter writer that his priorities are backwards and that his first concern should to ensure that his college-aged babysitter feels safe. However, while acknowledging that it will be awkward to hang out with the other couple after what happened, the columnist seems to think that is only because of who the father propositioned. He ends his response saying, “Here’s hoping that the parents of your son’s other pals cheat normally (i.e., at a reasonable distance from the playroom).”
Excuse me? I did not know there was a normal way to cheat. I should have gotten a clue from the fact that the question was asked in this column rather than in another potential New York Times venue, The Ethicists column. In 2011, Randy Cohen penned his farewell article as he passed on the baton of The Ethicist. He wrote of the variety of questions he had received over the years, including whether, “…you must blow the whistle on a friend’s adulterous spouse.” Fast-forward four years and adultery has morphed from an ethical problem into an awkwardness issue.
There are religious leaders who do embody holiness. There are politicians who are upright. Sadly, we seem to be exposed more frequently to those who betray their positions than to those who elevate them. In the final analysis, each of us needs to uphold what is right. Disappointment in the failure of others doesn’t relieve us our own individual responsibility. We need to constantly monitor ourselves to make sure that we aren’t confusing immorality with normality, not exclusively in the sexual area, but certainly including that realm.
For questions asked and answered more in keeping with your sensibilities, get our Ask the Rabbi book. Entertaining and enlightening, share with your family and friends and get a healthy conversation going.