Restoring to Grace

All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” – Sophocles

The intrigue and drama surrounding the resignation of General Petraeus from his post as Director of the CIA following the apparently accidental discovery of his extramarital affair by the FBI has me thinking today about the matter of falling from and being restored to grace.

Whenever you make a mistake, you invariably suffer a fall from the fullness of grace of which you are presently capable. Those around you will either take the high road and seek to use the opportunity to help you to return to grace or they will take the low road and beat you over the head with it.

In the case of General Petraeus, I wonder if some caring soul from the FBI could have told him of their discovery and urged him to rethink his actions quietly and privately, given that he undoubtedly understood the risks of such “extremely poor judgment” (his words not mine) to a man of his position. The FBI and the CIA work for the same government, don’t they?

The FBI’s caution in disclosing the information to anyone else was understandable, but I can’t help but think of an occasion during my 5th grade P.E. class when my unfortunate P.E. teacher’s head was the unfortunate and accidental target of a dodge ball kicked across the gym. As soon as the ball left my classmates foot virtually everyone there – except for the unwitting yet fortunately sturdy Ms. Pulley – could see that it was headed straight for her head…yet no one alerted her to the impending impact. We all stood motionless and open-jawed, and braced for the collision.

What I learned from that experience in 5th grade was that if you can help another to avoid an embarrassment or worse, injury or death (literal or figurative), you are more often than not wise to intervene. How to intervene is a matter of debate, but one of my favorites was detailed in a succinct formula some 2,000 years ago in the Book of Matthew.

As a side note and in an effort to prevent those of my readers who are not religiously inclined from tuning out, I was raised an Episcopalian by a father who was raised a Catholic and a mother who grew up in the Episcopalian faith. For some 10 years in my early adulthood I attended a non-denominational Christian church that taught many of the principles of truth I’ve elaborated on through my daily posts on this blog over the last 2 and 3/4 years. While I don’t agree with many of the interpretations of the world’s sacred texts spun by various religions over the ages, I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is truth in everything and our job is to separate the “wheat,” that is the life-giving grains of truth, from the “chaff,” or that which is inconsistent with truth.

While I’m not presently a member of any church, I am a deeply spiritual person. I realized long ago (in my teens) that my purpose was inextricably linked to delivering a “message,” as Rowan did in his fictional mission, to Garcia. There are any ways to do this, of course, some more effective than others, but point is that when you know that your purpose in life is to deliver a message, you deliver that message no matter what other people say or do to try and stop you.

The paragraph of the message I am compelled to deliver today relates to the matter of restoring a fellow human being to grace. One of the concepts drilled into me during my church-going years was the so-called Golden Rule. Many believe this to be a Judeo-Christian maxim, but it has been around for much longer than Christianity.

The ethic of reciprocity, that is, the Golden Rule, is one to which I have adhered steadfastly. It has informed my approach to fatherhood, management and philanthropy and it forms the basis of my message to you today.

When someone within your sphere of influence errs in his ways, consider this formula for helping that person to rise from the ashes of his transgression:

Matthew 18:15-17

[15] Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
[16] But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
[17] And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

The “church” in your case may not be a religious institution, it may be your father or mother in the case of siblings, your boss in the case of coworkers or the leader in the case of your country. One of the best ways to save the baby while draining away the bath water is to not take everything so literally. Much of the Holy Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita, Diamond Sutra, Tao Te Ching etc, is symbolic and not to always to be taken literally.

Whether General Petraeus would have heeded the quiet forewarning of a friend or the more poignant notice of a friend with one or two more witnesses I cannot be sure, for as it is said “pride cometh before a fall,” but the point is that we, as members of the one body – the body of humanity – can give others every chance to rise up before it’s too late.

Wouldn’t you want the same opportunity to be restored to grace if it were you?

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8 Responses to Restoring to Grace

  1. Lara says:

    Well said Gregg. Thank you.

  2. Paul Kimball says:

    Absolutely. Thank you for your compassion and balanced presentation of your views.

  3. Ricardo B. says:

    I certainly would. How many times I can reflect in my own life where I’ve been given chances that I couldn’t fully appreciate until much later after the dust settled is testimony to the compassionate attitudes that people are capable of holding. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the decisions of many people in my life that acted with compassion and gave me another chance. And they did so without making a stink about it. If you refuse to change your ways, well that’s one thing. But we all do need to extend forgiveness and understanding as a first rule, for without that, we can never learn from our mistakes and our world becomes one giant cold heartless courtroom, creating distance and animosities between each other rather than one where you have ‘gained thy brother.’

    Perhaps the stakes were too high in the case of Petraeus, who knows. Still, how we all approach the delicate matters in life can change the course of our future.

  4. Marianne Q says:

    Yes, and it’s because of the graciousness of others when I’ve erred that I’ve learned how important it is to have empathy and compassion for the mistakes that others make.

  5. Coco says:

    Aye, aye! I was saddened to see this mans’ ” public “fall from grace”. I wonder if there aren’t “other” reasons for his retribution being so swift, and in my thought, excessive. He has served our country intelligently and devotedly for so many years . You make an excellent point; was there no one who could have privately advised him?
    When I hear the basking in another’s trials or tribulation I am struck by the smallness of some hearts. I fully believe there is a reckoning for all our transgressions but we aren’t the ones with the scale.
    Your fifth grade lesson is a prize!

  6. Steve Ventola says:

    Lessons learned sometimes in hindsight does also assist with a restoration to grace. Your words are humbling and freeing at the same time. It is good to take note of the poise required to hear from another errant ways we may be moving as well as providing the words and actions of mercy for another.

  7. Joshua says:

    I will carry the message to Garcia!
    More-over, were my brothers and sisters to understand the importance of this message they wouldn’t err in their ways, and attempt to delay delivery.
    Forgiveness, liberally applied, keeps the wheels moving, and quickens delivery, which in this case, returns us collectively to grace.

  8. Zach says:

    I have had the experience of having someone come and discuss an issue personally with me where they could have easily told me off in front of a group. I always really appreciated it, and have remembered it for a long time.
    There are a few reasons that come to my mind for why someone would “skip a step” in the process. Whether they are just obtuse or are trying to embarrass, they have nothing to do with restoring their fellow man to grace.
    When you restore your fellow to grace, it is an opportunity for you to stay in a state of grace yourself. Any other move will inhibit your ability to stay there just as assuredly as you try to put down someone else.

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