Let's regain integrity's compass

It seems to me that in our own time far too many people wear different faces depending upon their own needs or the role they were expected to play.

It seems that we humans are capable not only of great and terrible things, but also of intriguing whimsy and laughable behavior. And laughable also includes behaviors such as those depicted in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: things that are not really “funny” but are certainly part of our weird human species.

In this age of feminism we find the incongruous pairing of women being encouraged to entertain pursuing all professions under the sun even as so many of their beloved female “stars” in the performing arts flounce about in costumes that reveal far more than they conceal. We are urged to respect women for their intellect and accomplishments, even as many of them adorn themselves with paint, chemicals, and garb that screams “Notice me!”

Are they “advertising?” And, if so, what is the “product?” No matter some young men are confused. Nor can I imagine it is easy for girls and young women to navigate this course of seeming contradictions.

Part of this is due to Mother Nature’s “joke”: we humans, who have been around for tens of thousands of years, were not designed to live as long as we do now.

For most of our species existence, life was — in Hobbesian terms — all too brutal, nasty, and short. Thus, our hormonal triggers are keyed to young women’s bodies blossoming at a very young age; today, all too many are still almost children when this happens. With their newly acquired curves and bumps many seem compelled to let other people — especially young men — know that this has happened to them.

Back in the day when I was in high school, I still remember seeing “the girls” exiting school buildings at the end of classes stopping to roll up their skirts at the waist so that they would climb shockingly above their knees. Barely out of sight of the watchful nuns, they would then proceed to apply lipstick and rouge from their purses to color their faces before going home. We boys were, of course, happy to glimpse some of their knees.

Well, all of that is innocent enough.

But how to explain some women’s behavior when they are significantly beyond adolescence? I remember all too well encountering women, many of them really quite attractive, who were “making themselves available to me” when I was a politician.

And, as a manager at the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System following my elected career, I several times interviewed female candidates for job openings who arrived for the interview in the most inappropriate manner of dress: tight sweaters, plunging necklines, clinging skirts, or even mini-skirts.

As I am sure many of you are aware, in recent months here in the States there has been a wave of women — some more prominent persons than others — attacking individual men for their boorish (or worse) behavior.

Some, like Bill Cosby, have clearly been serial predators. But some others, such as the former senator from Minnesota Al Franken, appear to have committed relatively minor transgressions.

There are a couple of things that deeply trouble me about this pattern. First, except in the case of Cosby, all have so far been accusations of inappropriate behavior but have not been verified as facts in any kind of legal process.

What ever happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?

Second, a great many of these women (not all) have either been in professions which their physical beauty provided them both access and promotion or who sought out these same men for aid in advancing their own careers.

How many of these alleged wrong behaviors on the part of the men were sought — or at least tolerated — by some of these women as long as the relationship was working to their own advantage? It brings to mind that old adage: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

In one of their songs from the ‘60s, the Beatles warbled about one Eleanor Rigby “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.”

It seems to me that in our own time far too many people wear different faces depending upon their own needs or the role they were expected to play.

What you see is what you get may be true on those occasions, but this should not be confused with what you see is what I am.

In my upbringing, heavily influenced as it was by my Irish Catholic heritage, I was taught to wear but one face: my own, the “real” one, and that my behavior should be consistent, flowing from an interior balance rooted in an attempt to live rightly. Although not Confucian in origin, like Confucius’ counsel it emphasized unity of being and total mutuality of responsibility toward everyone. I have not always been able to maintain that balance or integrity of being, but I have always striven for it.

Perhaps there will yet come a time when more young women than not will strive to reveal their nature more than their bodies, and young men, smiling at what skin is revealed, will retain reasonable calm sustained by integrity’s compass.

Greg Cusack is a retired US Congressman from Iowa. He now lives in Oregon.


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