Without a snout

Aug 28, 2002 at 12:00 am

Truthfully, I don't understand the intricacies of the financial scandals that have been as reliably a part of the news lately as weather reports. I've said it before: When it comes to finance matters, I'm the dog in the "Far Side" cartoon whose owner is trying to talk to her, and all she hears is "Blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah."

What I am reasonably sure of is that these executives walked away with millions of dollars, while many of their employees walked away with their working lives in a Staples box and their financial futures up in smoke. The upshot is you have executives — a species previously admired for their savvy, their determination and their fat lifestyles — now looking like the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, who lived the high life off the backs of the rest of the barnyard dwellers, who worked themselves sick and got nothing. And to think, Animal Farm was supposed to be about Communism.

We have a parade of suits being marched past the cameras in handcuffs for committing scandalous and scurrilous acts that most of us would never dream of committing. And what was the last parade? Priests, one after another, being called out for having either committed or covered up scandalous or scurrilous acts that most of us would never have dreamed of committing. In between these parades there is always some politician being questioned for etcetera and so on.

Most recently it was James Traficant, who was found guilty of bribery, corruption and racketeering. Plus, if the fashion police had an actual jail, he would have been thrown in its deepest dungeon for having an unrepentant hairdo that looks like a broadsided possum.

Fine swine

It's hard not to notice a trend in the criminal element these days: They're all of a type that, in more innocent times, would have been seen as role models. The driven CEO, the caring spiritual leader, the involved patriot: We might have looked at these stereotypes and then at ourselves and found ourselves a little wanting — too lazy to make a million-billion dollars, too hedonistic to go questing for God, too apathetic to get involved in government. Now these paradigms are not only human beings, but aren't even human beings you'd loan $20 (which your lazy, hedonistic, uninvolved self at least came by honestly) for fear you'd never see it again.

Woody Allen once said, "Everything your parents said is good for you is bad: sun, milk, red meat, college." Now it seems everyone you thought was a good person is bad: CEOs, priests, congressmen, Martha Stewart. In our incredibly image-conscious country it's good for us to see that what's behind the images of power are just fallible human beings. Of course, many people in power are fine people. Still, it pays to occasionally shove the Emperor in front of Mr. Blackwell and have him pronounce, "Not only is he naked, but he stole that horrible wig off a servant."

Ahead by a nose

So while all these scandals are depressing, at least they bring to light one very important thing: You're not as bad as you think you are. When I see people I know, myself included, who feel terribly guilty or bad for having one too many at a party, getting into a fender bender or not finding a job, and then I see others who don't seem to think twice when they steal millions of dollars or ignore abuses of power, I'm dumfounded at the lopsided sense of virtue that exists in people. I know some who feel bad if they take a mint out of the charity box without putting a quarter in. And then there's Enron.

So just for the record: We all have our moments. We don't all always do our best. We aren't always admirable. Maybe you've blown off going to the gym, didn't get the promotion, didn't pay your bills on time, started smoking again, called your fellow drivers bad names, ate all the ice cream in one go, threw away your recyclables, botched a romance, failed to catch up on your reading, cursed like an Osbourne, lied to get out of a social function or drank all the beer. These are normal kinks in the human personality; foibles worthy of Homer Simpson not the devil. So maybe you've done a few of these things, but chances are you're not a corporate thief, kidnapper or felonious monk.

Give yourself a break.

I'm not saying two wrongs make a right. I am saying that with all the things we compare ourselves to unfavorably — the supermodels, the tycoons, the swamies and the geniuses — it's good to compare ourselves to some real pricks to see how good we really are. So stop slouching and appreciate that, at least you are a decent human being.

That said, I'm going to go watch "Bewitched" instead of writing the great American novel. And I'm totally cool with that.

Liz Langley writes for Orlando Weekly. E-mail [email protected]