The case for practicing what you preach

Betsy PickleOpinion

It’s hard to live up to one’s principles sometimes, but perfection is not a natural human quality.

Just ask my attorney at Dewey, Cheatham & Howe. I believe in law and order, but on occasion I’ve been known to push the envelope on the posted speed limit.

I remember two childhood incidents of shoplifting. In one of them, a brother and I were caught trying to take something like a pack of gum from the checkout display and made to apologize to the store manager by our mother.

In the other, I noticed a loose thimble in the Kmart sewing section and figured, hmm, I need a thimble, so I took it. I was so guilt-ridden that I couldn’t use it, and I went out on the back porch and threw it into the woods next to our house. I was never punished, but I’ve carried the guilt through the decades since.

My misdemeanors taught me valuable lessons – not just to avoid breaking laws, but also not to do anything that I knew was wrong. Let me emphasize, I am not perfect, but I try very hard not to have a guilty conscience.

I know people who’ve fudged on taxes and gotten cable TV illegally. I never reported them. I know of politicians and upper-level executives who’ve taken advantage of their positions to acquire assets for which they didn’t pay. Most of them have gotten away with it.

My best friend, who died of cancer three years ago at age 57, was twice a whistleblower in corporate America; she turned down the reward both times. I admired her more than anyone else I’ve ever known. Integrity is a big thing with me. Standing up for what’s right, no matter the consequences, is the pinnacle of being principled.

I still boycott Exxon and BP because of the damage they wreaked on the environment with their massive oil spills, and I quit patronizing Jimmy John’s because their former CEO was a big-game hunter.

But I’ve never put my life or career on the line to protest injustice. I’ve never made a stand in public that could have landed me in jail.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the recent Met Gala or Sunday night’s Emmys, but I skimmed reports about them afterward and saw criticism of celebrities not following CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“Oh, these celebs are such hypocrites, telling people to wear masks and then not wearing them to these big events,” read many comments. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable being in those crowds, but the attendees did have to show proof of vaccinations and have a test to make sure they weren’t positive, so they actually did adhere to recommendations.

More complicated is the criticism of President Biden for his words following the ISIS-K attack at the Kabul airport that resulted in the deaths of 13 American service members and around 160 Afghan civilians. “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said.

Even before the U.S. military revealed that the drone strike had killed civilians, not terrorist targets, Biden was being taken to task. How could a practicing Catholic make a statement such as “We will not forgive”? Forgiveness is a key tenet of Christianity; it’s in The Lord’s Prayer” – Jesus’ template for prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

No doubt Biden has been told to say a few “Our Fathers” in his lifetime. He knows the words by heart. But newsflash: The U.S. presidency is a secular office. The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 when the country was jousting ideologies with the “godless Communists.”

Is Biden a hypocrite? Is he weak? Is he just playing politics? History will tell us.

What’s clear right now is the transparency about the tragic drone attack. When the dust settled and Biden and our military leaders learned the truth, they told the American people. They didn’t cover it up, as past administrations have done.

They put their careers on the line to do the right thing. That’s what it means to have principles.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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