By Jenny Sanford
I have recently weathered the demise of a 20-year marriage. My former spouse, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, clearly lost sight of the values we had shared, values that formed the basis of our relationship. His ego blinded him to the consequences of the poor choices he was making. His public fall was quick and terrible for him, for us, for our children. But caught up in the drama of it all, I took the applicable truism of Proverbs 11:2 to heart: “When pride comes then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
I have worked hard on my own humility in the hopes I would come through wiser, stronger, and more grounded in my faith and spirituality. I didn’t always succeed in being humble and no doubt will come up short again. But I worked to remain focused on my family, friends and faith and in my darkest hours I clung for life to my values. I reminded myself daily to be the best that I can in God’s eyes and in light of who I know I can be. And, importantly, as He teaches, I worked to forgive. Indeed, I knew that peace and happiness for me and for my family could only come if I let forgiveness light the way. Each of us is answerable to God for our sins; I came to understand that passing my own judgment hurts only me.
If today’s headlines are to be believed, public figures sin now more than ever before and a person who seems too good to be true has something to hide. But, as Ecclesiastes wisely put it, there is nothing new “under the sun.” Sin itself is as old as our world; the Bible is filled with tales of kings and other spiritual or community leaders who fall precipitously from their places of power for their myriad sins.
I’ve worked on Wall Street and I’ve been married to a political rising star, and I’ve witnessed spectacular falls from grace in both arenas. I have seen egos expand dangerously with income, and I have also seen the personality changes that can come from the ego-stroking attention lavished on a politician in demand. And too often, these changes or this attention leads to a disconnection from reality and then, sadly, a crashing thud as the person comes back down to Earth.
I believe that as anyone climbs the ladder of success -whether in business, politics, religion, sports, entertainment or everyday life– he or she faces the possibility of disconnecting from basic values and succumbing to temptations that abound. Today’s politician, for example, can have incredible demands on his time. There are lobbyists and constituents who want him to vote a certain way, media who want interviews, interest groups who want influence, political enemies who want to spread untruths, bills that have to be read, polls that need to be considered, natural disasters that need attention and most likely a spouse and children who want time and attention as well.
To accommodate the demands, a politician must surround himself with a team of people committed to booking his time, getting him from one place to another, cooking his meals, helping to run interference on many fronts, keeping him safe from crowds or threats, even telling him what to wear. In other words, to accommodate the many demands on his time and energy, he removes himself from the decisions and consequences of real life. Celebrities and sports stars are prone to this, too. Insulated this way, even a good person’s vision can become clouded with pride, which brings us back to Proverbs and the promise of disgrace to follow. (Interestingly, this was likely written by Solomon, a wise king who also learned this lesson the hard way.)
If today’s headlines are to be believed, we are a people in pretty sorry shape. But I choose to eschew the cynical idea that all people in the public realm will stumble and fall. Most, in fact, will keep their focus where it belongs – on their values and on the larger issues of the day. I also choose to believe that the person who seems too good to be true just might have something to share, to give, and to contribute. As all faiths of the world teach, we should continue to look for the best in each other.
Jenny Sanford, a graduate of Georgetown University, she worked for six years at the Wall Street investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Co. in New York before moving with her then-husband, Mark Sanford, to South Carolina.