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"Schwarzenegger's win shows demise of 'Myth of Perfectin'"
Ventura Star, October 26, 2003

By Terry Paulson, PhD

Something happened in the most recent recall election that is noteworthy-a very "imperfect" person was still elected governor of California by a huge margin. The last minute barrage in the Los Angeles Times of Arnold Schwarzenegger's reported past sexual misconduct did not derail his campaign. In fact, it seemed to help it. Exit polls of people who decided their vote in the last week went for Governor Arnold by well over fifty percent. Most who had already decided to vote for him did not desert him. That is a change. Last minute media revelations regarding opponents' indiscretions have benefited Governor Davis and Senator Barbara Boxer in past campaigns. Why not this time?

Could it be that the preoccupation of the media with finding fault with politicians, cultural icons and resident heroes has finally taken its toll on our collective Myth of Perfection? We desperately want to believe that our leaders and heroes are perfect in every way. We want more from them than we find even in ourselves.

It's been a tough few months for our heroes and cultural icons. Many CEOs are being put on trial for criminal activity. Kobe Bryant faces rape charges in Colorado. Even conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has illegally purchased pain killers to feed his addiction and has now checked himself in for treatment.

These examples may disappoint us, but they should not surprise us. The only places that perfect people exist are in educational movies and promotional pieces. They both promote positive images, and, with a script and ready camera crew, they can shape and redo those images until they get it right. Wouldn't that be nice in real life, we could retake days and events that did not go well until we get it right? In life, there are no dress rehearsals, and all flat tires must be fixed while moving. If you waited for perfection, you would end up procrastinating so long that you would do nothing at all.

There is nothing wrong with high standards, aspiring to be good people and working hard to achieve excellence. We need standards to help challenge us to grow and improve. We should expect the same from our leaders and heroes. But we must also deal with the reality of error and sin in all our lives.

That's right-sin and error! As much as we talk about excellence, quality, political correctness and goodness, we know that we all make mistakes and we have behaved in ways we would not want exposed in our local newspaper, much less 60 Minutes! We all must deal with forgiveness and the opportunity to learn and improve.

We used to act as though people had to have a perfect past to run for any political office. As a result, there are a lot of good, decent leaders who have had imperfect pasts who have been reluctant to run or to serve. They had fallen short of the standards of right and wrong that they now hold dear, but they have changed. After Arnold's victory, we may have finally realized that we can handle imperfect people leading us provided that they have taken responsibility, apologized, paid the price if necessary, and changed their behavior.

When under attack, people often quote the Biblical story of Jesus and his confrontation with the woman caught in adultery. When asked whether the woman should be stoned to death for her sin, Jesus took time to let the crowd's anger subside and said, "Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone." It was recorded that people gradually dropped their stones and left, and there was no one left to condemn her. We appreciate forgiveness, but we forget the rest of the story. Jesus said to her in leaving, "Go and sin no more."

Americans are forgiving when people take responsibility and show a willingness to change their ways. Most people do. That is why you don't hear about roving gangs of senior citizens terrorizing our neighborhoods. We grow, we learn, and we let go of childish, boorish and, at times, illegal behavior.

The demise of the Myth of Perfection may be a healthy thing for us all, but don't expect that forgiveness to be a license to continue. California may have accepted Arnold's indiscretions as lighthearted, sexual friskiness that somehow fit with his past weightlifting and Hollywood environments. But I believe that California voters would not look kindly on such continued behavior in our governor in Sacramento. We may not be throwing any stones, but we also want to give a clear message to our leaders and cultural icons-"Go and do well, but sin no more!"

Terry Paulson, Ph.D., of Agoura Hills, CA is a professional speaker on making change work and author of They Shoot Managers Don't They?

—Terry Paulson, PhD

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