Friday, 28 September 2007

The Public Side of Private Life

I don't buy or read "Gossip" magazines. When others have shown me some of these magazines I generally have no idea who most of these 'celebrities' featured in these magazines are! But these types of magazines raise the issue of what constitutes 'private' and 'public' about another person. Everyone deserves some privacy. The problem, however, is when someone who holds a very public position becomes known for living a questionable 'private' life. These people then generally appeal to the distinction between their public and their private lives claiming that the public has no right to expose their private life.

Recently a former federal parliamentarian died in the midst of great scandal. Legal proceedings were in progress after the man had been charged with multiple paedophilia charges. Remarkably when he died some of his supporters were scathing of the media for reporting these charges and giving his many accusers a platform to air their allegations. Even more remarkable was the notion put forward by some that this man's private life should not form the public's opinion of him since he had made such a valuable public contribution.

Another prominent politician was reported in the media for having attended a New York Strip Club when he was essentially blind drunk. This probably wouldn't have rated a mention except that this politician had made much of his Christian and family values and the obvious hypocrisy of his night-out was glaring. But a strange thing happened. Rather than being condemned for this hypocrisy he was excused for being a public figure who deserved a private life where he could do whatever he wanted. Added to this his mistake was cheered as a demonstration of his humanity. Strange.

The word "integrity" means whole, undivided. When someone lives "two" lives (a private life + a public life) they are not living with integrity. It is an honourable thing to live one life where there is maximum consistency between what the public sees and what no-one sees. Leaders who live with integrity last the distance and actually earn the respect of the public they serve.

Andrew Corbett