Just hours apart the head of the C.I.A. and the president (& C.E.O. elect) of Lockheed Martin have resigned. These leaders of national security organizations were driven to resign after their adulterous activities were uncovered. If you are a reader from another country you may be scratching your head at this point and wondering why people feel forced to resign because of betraying their wives. How could such a personal failing have any bearing on professional competence? Both men are reported to have had relationships with willing and of age partners. How does this become the concern of anyone, besides the aggrieved spouse?
A good place to start would be with the word; ‘security.’ The C.I.A. is pretty clear about which behaviors could compromise employees and potentially national security. Of course the very notion that an individual could be compromised by their own adultery is predicated on the assumption that the canoodling spouse believes what they are doing is Top Secret. That’s a rather illogical assumption. There are some people who conduct affairs in the open, but for most people it is more of a dark shadow, sunglasses kind of endeavor. There are mental health professionals who would suggest that the slinkiness is part of the appeal. Assignations happen in out of the way spots at odd hours because people fear being caught. If one fears being caught how can being caught a) come as a surprise or b) have the power to compromise? The very notion that discovery of adultery, in 2012, still has the power to cause someone to spill state secrets is almost quaint. The pain an adulterer causes to his spouse has not diminished in the least. But the power to scandalize has.
Is it incredibly bad judgment to engage in an extra-marital affair when your employer has made clear it’s ground for dismissal? Most certainly. But the puzzlement is that it is grounds for dismissal at all. Adultery in and of itself is destructive and hostile, but very personal. We all make terrible judgments in our personal lives from time to time. Sometimes we engage in actions or neglect that are as destructive as adultery. But shouldn’t we be allowed to weave our web of personal misery in peace?
There are jobs that by their very nature compromise our personal life. Certainly leading the C.I.A blurs the line a bit between personal and professional. A person knows that by taking a certain job they will almost always be “on.” They should probably stayed clothed in public and avoid public debauchery. But being a good spouse or parent or adult child shouldn’t be a job requirement. Cheating on your spouse is no more of a moral failing than divorcing your wife of forty years (who put you through school) to marry your 25-year old intern. How is adultery a lack of judgment but neglecting your aging parent is not?
We’ve decided that elected officials and government appointees agree to a higher degree of scrutiny and lack of privacy. But what of corporate leaders? Would anyone stop going to Best Buy because the (former) C.E.O. stepped out on his wife? Is Lockheed Martin’s ability to perform inextricably linked to their C.E.O.’s adherence to his marriage vows? Maybe. But in a world of multiple corporate misdeeds and seemingly endless political corruption it can all seem like a bright and shiny diversion.