Every one of us has done something embarrassing or something we regret. The question is, when we get called out for our actions, how do we respond? Do we own our misdeeds or do we double down on them? Owning up to our errors can be mortifying – nobody likes to eat humble pie – but relying on doubling down as a strategy can lead to twice the ultimate humiliation.
A recent example of this can be seen through the case of Lynn Marshall, wife of Wichita State head basketball coach Gregg Marshall. Mrs. Marshall was seen acting out in the stands at the Wichita State-Kentucky 2nd round NCAA Tournament game. Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio posted a video of Mrs. Marshall’s behavior to Twitter. It wasn’t terrible. Marshall appears to have been drinking a little. The worst of it was that a security guard told her not to stand on the seats. That’s a little embarrassing but it could have ended there.
Instead, the NCAA contacted Franklin. They not only made him remove the offending post, they told him that he couldn’t tweet about Marshall anymore because “it made her upset.”
By making Franklin remove the video, all the NCAA did was take a 20-second novelty and turn it into an actual news item. Take no action? A handful of people would have watched the video and it would have been over in a day. Force it to be removed? That draws huge attention to the story. Doing so ensured hundreds of times the traffic the video otherwise would have warranted, including repeated showings on ESPN. And you can be sure that if anyone had examples of Mrs. Marshall’s misbehavior that weren’t in the video, this provided them with opportunity to air them.
Marshall should have just owned her actions. Applying pressure in order to “expunge the record” tends to backfire.
My favorite Biblical analog for this type of behavior is the death of Avimelech in Judges chapter 9.
The Judges were great military leaders and most of them were wholly righteous. Avimelech was the rare exception. The son of the great leader Gidon (Gideon), Avimelech rose to power through multiple fratricide and political intrigue.
Avimelech was killed during the siege of Teiveitz. During the onslaught, a woman dropped a millstone from a tower onto Avimelech’s head, fracturing his skull. With his dying breath, Avimelech asked his sword-bearer to finish him off, so that people shouldn’t say that the mighty Avimelech was killed by a woman.
As a result of this dying request, we end up knowing not one but two things about Avimelech: (1) he was mortally wounded by a woman and (2) he was so incredibly vain that he used his last strength to try to make himself look good. All Avimelech accomplished was informing us that an unbridled ego was another of his many flaws.
There are many examples of people stubbornly sticking with their flaws to their own detriment. One famous example is King Yeravam (Jeroboam) of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. When the nation rebelled against King Solomon’s son Rechavam (Rehoboam), ten Tribes seceded. Yeravam was appointed king over the breakaway nation because he had been a hero – he stood up and reprimanded King Solomon over a matter in which the king had been mistaken. But when he took charge of his own nation, Yeravam became the model of an unfit ruler. He sealed the border so that his subjects couldn’t travel to the Temple in Jerusalem and he set up idols to serve as a religious substitute for them. God sent a prophet to tell Yeravam to repent but “after this thing, Yeravam did not turn from his evil way” and “because of this there was sin to the house of Yeravam to the extent that it would be cut off and destroyed from the face of the earth” (I Kings 13:33-34). The Talmud tells us that Yeravam could have been with God and King David in paradise but his ego wouldn’t let him (Sanhedrin 102a). Instead, he is listed as an example of the rare few who forfeited their share in the Next World altogether (ibid., 90a).
When called out on bad behavior, we can act like King David or we can act like Gary Hart. David was confronted about a dalliance and he said, “I have sinned” (II Kings 12:13). Hart, a 1988 presidential candidate, was asked about an alleged affair and replied, “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.” They did and they weren’t bored. Instead, they unearthed Hart’s affair with Donna Rice on a boat called (no joke) Monkey Business. King David was forgiven and is remembered favorably, albeit with this one anomalous incident on his record. Gary Hart is remembered primarily for Donna Rice and Monkey Business.
Everybody messes up now and then. What will we do the next time we get called out for it? Whether we take our lessons from Biblical and Talmudic sources, political history or The Wide World of Sports, we can reach one conclusion: saying, “You’re right. That was my bad. I resolve to do better,” is the best way to put it behind us and move on. Doubling down on the rightness of our misdeeds only exacerbates the situation. It not only prolongs the exposure, leading to worse humiliation than admitting wrongdoing in the first place, it’s bad for one’s mental, spiritual and possibly political health.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.