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The following was originally published in the Deseret News. It is republished here with permission.
The famous C.S. Lewis metaphor of people frantically running around with fire extinguishers in the time of a flood appears to be reality in the wake of mounting sexual misconduct claims against members of Congress and political candidates, along with Hollywood and business elites.
Calls for transparency, victims’ rights, sexual harassment training and accountability are vital. However, focusing on the behavior alone without connecting the dots to the underlying principles of morality, decency, fidelity and civility only ensures that the bad behavior will continue.
Sadly, the fire extinguisher-type outrage following revelations of such loathsome behavior won’t mean much to the victims, or to a society drowning in the rising tide of sexual promiscuity, harassment and abuse. What the world needs is for the life preserver of principles to be taught and valued at home and in our communities.
You simply cannot disconnect the behavior from the principles. Behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The media is profiting from around-the-clock coverage of the sexual allegations and controversy. Yet this same media spent an entire week celebrating and further sensationalizing the “life and times” of Hugh Hefner, whose business enterprises objectified women while conditioning men to view women as “less than” and subservient to their power and position. The conflicting messages exemplify just how blind society has become to the critical relationship between behavior and principle. Such a disconnect is dangerous.
American society increasingly accepts what Hollywood promotes. If we normalize the idea that the principles of morality and fidelity can be put on the shelf in search of selfish pleasure, we are certain to see more boorish behavior from people in power.
I am thankful women are coming forward and saying not just “me too,” but “no more!” Former presidential candidate and business leader Carly Fiorina called on good men everywhere to join the chorus of “no more” by ceasing to give respect to men who engage in such behavior. It is also critical that political parties stop supporting, defending or justifying behavior by their own members simply because they need a liberal or conservative vote on other issues.
We also have to go beyond just punishing those who perpetrate such acts. We normalize the behavior when we talk about it more but fail to address the underlying values, or lack thereof, that drive it.
A little over a year ago, as the country reacted to sexual conversations heard on an Access Hollywood tape, I made the case that men across the country are reassessing their association with political parties that don’t represent them and actually cast them into the abyss of the dumbed-down American male. Many men are now saying, “If my political party is buying and promoting that kind of male, then I’m out.”
We won’t end inappropriate behavior by just talking about it. Yes, there should be an end to taxpayer-funded “shush” funds to quiet accusers. Yes, the system for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct needs to be overhauled. Yes, harassment training can be more fully integrated into congressional offices. Yes, the leaders of both political parties should be accountable for looking the other way and covering up for their colleagues.
It is important to remember that we can be taught all the behavioral things we should or shouldn’t do — but until we start to value and teach the principles of morality, civility and fidelity, we aren’t going to change the culture — especially in Washington.
Washington cannot fix the disconnect between behavior and principles. The principles that are the only antidote to such bad behavior are part of a cottage industry — not a government program. Elevating and ennobling principles must be taught at home, demonstrated in neighborhoods and modeled in communities.
The outrage and anger of the current crisis will subside. But the floodwaters of sexual misconduct will rise again — and Congress, the media, Hollywood and big business will likely show up once again with fire extinguishers.
We must get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations in America — that is an important start, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct. We must also begin to create life preservers and rescue boats showing the connection between the principles that are taught and valued in society and the behavior that follows.