Did you see the latest episode of Rod Blagojevich’s reality show? I’ve been pondering the part that featured his reaction to the jury’s verdict. He was stunned.
“What universe is he living in?” I thought, after observing his reaction. “How could he not see at least the possibility of a guilty verdict?”
At first, I thought that it might be just part of his public persona. After hearing the taped phone calls, I concluded that the guy is disingenuous: he probably acts one way in public and another when he’s alone.
But then I wondered: “So, why did I vote for him twice? The guy is kind of likeable, and I’m not that bad at reading people.”
Then my thoughts went back to the days when I worked at St. Paul’s. Street people would drop by my office from time to time – usually to ask for money. Often they would precede their requests with long, dramatic hard-luck stories about the uncontrollable series of events that brought about their present predicaments.
Now, my values remind me not to judge a book by its cover. On top of that, my faith demands that I treat everyone as if he or she might be Jesus … at least to begin with. So, I would listen patiently. Sometimes, I saw through what they were saying and would call them on it.
But, other times, the story was believable. Like one time a guy came in and told me he was AWOL, but realized that he was only hurting himself, so he wanted to turn himself in. The only problem was he needed $50 for a bus ticket back to his base. As he went on with his story, a voice inside my head warned me: “Don’t believe him.” But his story was so compelling. So, I decided to put the guy on a phone with a hard-boiled, retired Army Colonel I knew, who, after listening to him for 10 minutes, told me, “I think he’s telling the truth.”
I found out later that this was not the case and I was out 50 bucks. But, then why was he so believable? I learned later that some folks with acute mental illness live in two worlds. Both worlds can be very real to them, which explains why the story seemed so genuine. He, in fact, wasn’t really making it up; in his mind he was describing reality.
So last week I wondered if Blagojevich was and or is delusional; maybe not in a clinical sense, I concluded, but there is certainly some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in him.
Then I got to thinking that there is a little bit of Blago in all of us. How many of us would want tapes of our private phone calls or conversations played before a jury? How many of us would keep our feet on the ground if we won elections or championships? Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner – we could go on and on – forgot that actions have consequences. Would you and I be immune to similar delusions of grandeur?
There are two things I’d like to say about this. One is that I’m all for a revival of Jiminy Cricket. Remember him? He’s the little guy who stood on Pinnochio’s shoulder and sang “Always let your conscience be your guide” whenever it looked like the puppet might be oblivious to the consequences of the actions he was about to take.
Over the last 30 years, I’ve observed the conscience forfeit itself to whatever feels good. There was a slogan in the ’60s that said something like “If it feels good, do it.” I understand where that came from, but it has gone way too far.
The other thing is the current tension between some in our village government and this newspaper. Politicians are tempted to be grandiose to feel like they are a notch or two wiser than the average guy. They might think that, because they were voted into office, the public automatically trusts them.
The media, small and large, is also inherently tempted to be self-righteous. After all, it’s our mission to serve as a watchdog over people with power (the abovementioned guys), and if we make a mistake or get too personal, well that’s just collateral damage in a war that must be fought.
So, like it or not, there’s a little bit of “Blago” in all of us: sometimes our visions of grandeur make us act in a way that isn’t in touch with reality.