Guest Blog: Measuring Greatness

I am yielding my blog today to my friend Jon Lewis. He recently wrote the following letter to NPR regarding a segment on the responses to the affair and resignation of General Petraeus. His words are important and timely for us as believers who hold to a different model of leadership than that of the world in which we live. Good words, John!


I take exception to some of the conclusions that were expressed this morning on Morning Edition regarding the resignation of General Petraeus as director of the CIA.

During Tom Gjeten’s interview with two “experts,” the conclusion of both was that we have put an “unrealistic expectation” on top military officials and we should really not be holding them to a higher standard than any other “fallible” person. It was further emphasized that what “consenting people do in private” should not be a concern to others and therefore should not shape our perception of their public success.

I strongly disagree that indiscretion in our private life has no impact on our public life. At the end of the day, that indiscretion is a window into the inner character of a person, which in turn, shapes their world view and behavior in every aspect of their life.

I think it is interesting how the men interviewed this morning seem to fit well with the perspective described by Steven Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that our culture has significantly changed its measure of a person’s greatness. Covey states that early in our country’s history, character was the quality that mattered most in judging a person’s leadership qualification. However, sometime before World War II, our culture shifted to being more interested in a person’s outward personality than in their inner character.

The comments on your program this morning fell in line with this thinking, that as long as the outward image of a general’s behavior was acceptable publically, we should not be concerned with what they do in private.

That perspective may sit well with a contemporary, post-modern view of the world where moral truth is totally relative to whatever anyone wants to believe. Deep down, however, I don’t believe most people really buy it. If that were true, why are we so bothered when Tiger Woods proves his inner character is not what we thought it was? No, for all of us, let alone for General Petraeus’ wife, Holly,  there is a deep sense of betrayal when a person we have trusted in, and NEED to trust in to be responsible for a significant national leadership position, proves they can be so susceptible to poor judgment in any part of their life – public or private.

It seems to me that the words of the New Testament in the book of Luke have an amazing ring of truth on this point, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Jon Lewis