Whether it’s issues of greed, dishonesty, bigotry, or otherwise, there are countless stories in our culture of successful, influential, and seemingly respectable men falling from grace. It could be a public figure who is looked to for leadership in his community. Perhaps it’s a celebrity who has cultivated a likable and trustworthy public persona through many years in the spotlight. It might even be a human rights activist, teacher, or religious leader. All too often it is the case that the things they did or said in private, when no one was watching, were very different from how they presented themselves in public. When the fall is made known, it is a surprise because we have come to expect a higher standard of behavior from them based their public image. When the secret things they did are exposed, we find out that they were not the men that we thought they were and their reputations take a hit as a result.
Whenever we find out that someone we respect and admire has acted in a way that is inconsistent with who they claim to be, we feel disappointed. We begin to call into question the character and integrity of the person. This is especially true if we believe they have violated the core values and virtues we feel are most important to us.
Composed of things like honesty and integrity, hard work and diligence, faithfulness and justice, a man’s core values and virtues act as a code, or guide, for how he should think and behave. The majority of the values and virtues that make up a man’s code are learned from his family and the people in his immediate surroundings during his childhood and adolescence. Faith, religion, and belief systems also factor into his code, as does the cues he takes from the society he lives in and from his life’s experiences. Taken together, all of these things influence the code, that is, the core values and virtues that guides one’s actions and thinking, that a man enters into adulthood with.
All of us will inevitably feel tempted to violate the very standard that we claim to live by.
The interesting thing about a code is that not only does it serve as the guide and guardrails for a us personally, it also serves as the moral standard by which we evaluate the actions of others. However, judging other actions by your personal code can be dangerous, and here’s why: it’s easy to judge others by the ethical or moral code you believe in, but you can just as easily fall short of this same code if you are not careful. All of us will inevitably feel tempted at some point to violate the very standard that we claim to live by. And, as we can learn from observing the lives of the many public features that fall from grace, the time that we face the greatest temptation to compromise our code is when we think no one is watching.
It doesn’t take much effort for us to adhere to a code when the circumstances are convenient, or when some sort of reward is expected, or when we want to project that most positive image of ourselves in public. This is because, if you’re like most people, you are inclined to behave in public in a way that will cause people to like, admire, and respect you, or that comes with some sort of public reward or incentive. In public, most of us make an effort to align our words and values with our actions because we want others to think well of us and we want to enjoy the benefits that public respect and admiration brings. However, if you aren’t careful, you can fool yourself into believing that you are someone you’re not. Because you have a virtuous reputation in the eyes of people who don’t see you behind closed doors, you can convince yourself that you are a better person than you actually are.
Your true character is revealed when you have no obvious incentive to do what is right.
The truth is, your true character is revealed when you have no obvious incentive to do what is right. It’s when you are alone, when no one is watching, that you’ll be most tempted to abandon your code. Like the stories of other men who have fallen from grace, it is in these moments that you’ll be tempted to convince yourself that no one will find out about the things you do in secret, that your good and virtuous public persona gives you the margin to compromise in private.
And what happens when we do?
In just about every scenario, the people closest to us have to live with the effects of the compromises you and I make to our code when we think no one is watching. Our family and closest friends will have to deal with broken trust. When we are exposed, they may have to deal with public shame or embarrassment and, in extreme cases, there can be lingering trauma and strained relationships. In situations where public leaders have moral failures, oftentimes their students, colleagues, organizations, and institutions can be affected as well. This can lead to public mistrust and cynicism toward leaders as well as all those in positions of authority and the institutions they represent. The failures of leaders can tarnish the reputation of entire schools, companies, churches, political groups or anyone that was relays on them.
Besides this, your personal reputation will always take a hit when there’s a discrepancy between the code you claim to live by and the man you actually are when you think no one is watching. When you fall, you’ll have to work to regain the trust of your family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else you’ve misled. There’s no telling how long it could take to repair damaged relationships. Some of these relationships may be changed forever.
The best advice for any man in a position of influence, no matter how great or small, is to strive to be the same man in private as he is in public.
Therefore, the best advice for any man in a position of influence, no matter how great or small, is to strive to be the same man in private as he is in public. In other words, always live as if someone is watching. What happens in darkness always has a way of finding its way into the light sooner or later. But if you are always the same, if you always live by the same code in public and in private, you’ll never have to worry about some compromising truth coming out. Even if you think no one will ever find out, it is still wise to live everyday as if someone is always watching. It will make you a better man, one of integrity and truth, a man that is true to the code that he claims to live by at all times no matter what. And, if you do have a fall from grace in private, be sure to correct it quickly. We all fall short of our personal code from time to time. However, matters are often made worse when we fail to make amends and correct the behavior quick.
In the end, if you fall from grace, you may eventually win back the trust of the people in your life. You may even manage to salvage your reputation. Undoubtedly, you will learn valuable lessons about honor and integrity. But it will come at a steep cost.
Redemption stories are heartwarming because they remind us how important second chances truly are when we fall. But cautionary tales can help us avoid many of the public and private falls that others experience if we act in wisdom and integrity. To be sure, there is grace when we fall short, but there also may be lasting effects. Inevitably, one day each of us will have to answer for the things we’ve done when no one was watching. Wise men, however, make sure there is no distinction between the code they profess publicly and the standard they live by privately.