I recently saw a television show about a man who left a suicide note and disappeared. He left his wife practically destitute with only the proceeds from a small insurance policy and death benefits from Social Security for their two sons. Five years later, he was declared dead.
Fourteen years later, after rebuilding her life, the wife received a letter from the SSA, demanding the return of the $56,000 death benefits because her husband was “not deceased.”
Turns out this guy, moved to Galveston, Texas, assumed a new name, hooked up with another woman, lived on waterfront property, and became a prominent public figure with social standing amongst his circle of friends. After a co-worker got suspicious when he saw forged documents which raised questions about this man’s identity, he confessed everything to his friends and the local D.A. which seemed to appease everyone. But, he was forced to use his real name and Social Security number again which alerted the SSA.
Back in Ohio, his wife did her own investigation, had him extradited and charged with felony counts of insurance fraud and non-support, which eventually landed him in the slammer for one year out of a 4-year sentence with restitution to be paid and a $250,000 civil judgment in her favor.
The story in itself is an amazing one but the reaction from his “circle of friends” in Galveston left me bewildered.
“We’re not talking about a rapist, a mugger, a murderer; he wasn’t that awful a person,” said one friend.
“I don’t think I’ve been deceived. I have many emotions, but being deceived is not one of them,” said another.
When asked about the position he left his wife and children, one said, “I’m only in a position to judge what he’s done here and that’s been remarkable.”
Another said, “They should’ve had those 15 years; I don’t blame his wife for being angry,” but “he’s suffered, he’s had his own hell these 15 years.” Oh, really? He was living a very affluent life in a waterfront home.
The interviewer then questioned, “Why are you all so willing to forgive?” and was told, “He didn’t hurt us. There’s no reason not to forgive him.” When asked if they would accept him back, almost in unison came a thundering, “In a heart beat!”
When the interviewer pointed out that he faked his own death, his best friend said, “To leave everything behind was either “an act of incredible cowardice or bravery born out of desperation” and, in his opinion, it was “bravery born out of desperation.” Amazing.
When his lawyer in Ohio asked for a reduction in bail, my chin almost dropped to the floor when he said, “This is not a situation where people have been harmed or murdered.” (Sometimes lawyers really shouldn’t say anything.)
The comments from his friends, who thought nothing of his betrayal of his wife and children, the fraud against the insurance company and the SSA as a result of his faked death, and the creation of a new identity and life for himself, were startling.
To even consider this guy’s actions were “brave” is disturbing to say the least, but to believe that “he wasn’t as awful a person” is incredible. Because he had never hurt any of them, their apathy towards his wife and two small boys was beyond remarkable.
My first reaction was that these people are far more forgiving than I am. However, forgiveness presupposes that a wrong has been committed, but his friends didn’t think this guy did anything wrong.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized society has lost its sense of right and wrong and is now drowning in a pool of moral relativism. The more we move towards secularism, the more unwilling we are to say something is “wrong.” The more society is unwilling to shun the wrongdoer, the less likely he or she will ever experience a sense of shame, except, of course, for the contrived, usually scripted “public apology.”
A perfect example is Kobe Bryant. There are no words to express the disgust I feel every time I arrive at LAX and see the humongous billboard with Bryant’s face welcoming visitors to LA — not the entire Lakers’ team, just Bryant. Here’s a guy who was charged with sexual assault, admitted to the adulterous sexual encounter, settled out of court, and he’s still a superstar!
Despite the 2003 sexual assault case, it was reported just this summer that Bryant earned a $23 million salary and $10 million in endorsements and was ranked seventh in Sports Illustrated’s list of highest-earning U.S. athletes!
Because the Lakers, corporate sponsors and fans have excused his despicable behavior by rewarding him with a continuing successful and highly-paid career, Bryant has never suffered shame, guilt, embarrassment or disgrace. As far as I’m concerned, this guy shouldn’t show his face in public, but his obvious athletic skills have trumped any moral issue.
Another example is former President Clinton. He was only the second President to be impeached by the House of Representatives since Andrew Johnson in 1868. In closing arguments, chief prosecutor Henry Hyde said, “A failure to convict will make the statement that lying under oath, while unpleasant and to be avoided, is not all that serious…We have reduced lying under oath to a breach of etiquette, but only if you are the President…” He was acquitted by the Senate. Need I say more?
It’s still astounding to me how, having disgraced not only himself but his wife and daughter, President Clinton has the audacity to appear in public, year after year, and still maintain his popularity.
And let’s not forget Mark Sanford, Woody Allen, Barney Frank, Roman Polanski, Tiger Woods, Al Sharpton, Jimmy Swaggart and Eliot Spitzer, all who’ve done shameful things, but continue to maintain political power or enjoy highly lucrative careers. Doesn’t anyone remember Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick? And the list goes on and on and on.
In her article, “For Shame,” Rebecca Forster asked the question, “If shame, embarrassment, dishonor, guilt and humiliation are undefined – or ill-defined – how will we teach the meaning of pride, honor, principle and bravery?” Heck if I know.
I don’t get it, and, if you do, God Bless you.
Copyright © 2013 BernardGoldberg.com