“We value virtue but do not discuss it.” -John Steinbeck
I came across this post today and it struck me as an interesting point for discussion. I’m not sure who said this to me, it may have been my Dad, but a saying I grew up with is this,
It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and a single poor decision
to destroy it.
I have generally found this to be true. It takes a long time to establish yourself as a responsible, trustworthy person in the eyes of others, but one poor decision can flush all that hard work away.
I don’t necessarily think it’s true in all cases. Certainly some people make many mistakes and are still thought well of, but I think that people in general have a much easier time remembering negative occurences.
For example, let’s look at Bill Clinton. From what I understand, he was a very successful president. The nation flourished while he was in office and he did a marvelous job brokering good relationships with other countries.
What is he remembered for, though? Is it his foreign policy? His positive effect on the economy? No, it’s his blunder with Monica Lewinski. He spent eight years serving his country and all it took was an hour (+/-) to cast a pall over all his accomplishments.
What I wonder is whether this is a cultural thing. Do we, as Americans, sink our teeth into bad news like a hungry dog on a steak or is this just human nature?
John Steinbeck seems to have nailed it on the head in saying that, while we value virtue, it’s not really our favorite thing to talk about. A recent example is the popular show “Extreme Home Makeover.” This show orchestrates the construction of beautiful homes for families across the country and then we never hear from the families again. We never hear about how they’re faring, what they’ve done with their extreme good fortune, nothing.
But, when a family forecloses on their dream home because they mortgaged it to start a lawn-mower business (What’s that saying about shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves?) it’s on the front-page of MSN. I bet there are a lot of families who have done great things with the blessings they received but none of those great things will land them on the MSN homepage.
What do you think? Do you agree with Steinbeck that we don’t like to talk about virtue? Is this just an American thing?