Sunday, June 12, 2011
Anthony Weiner – Congressman, husband and soon to be father – has made a mess out of his life and career. He’s been unfaithful to his marriage and has, in no small way, betrayed the trust of his constituents by allowing his influence in Congress to be significantly diminished and then lying about his behavior. That many have called for him to resign may be understandable, but it’s wrong. It’s a manifestation of significant hypocrisy and immaturity on their part and of a double standard that’s well worth pointing out.
Congressman Weiner is sick. I’m neither a psychologist nor psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure that the nature and extent of his behavior are over the lines that define the wide normal portion of the bell curve in which most of us reside.
If he had cancer or had been in a serious auto accident, everyone would be wishing him well and a speedy recovery. He’d take as much sick leave as he needed and return to work when he was up to it. Yes, if his illness or injury was so severe that he couldn’t return to work, could no longer be effective at what he was hired to do, that would be that – but he shouldn’t be pressured to resign before it’s determined that a recovery isn’t possible, that he can no longer do his job.
Sure, Congressman Wiener’s work depends heavily upon how people react to him. In very real terms, he’s been disfigured. The question is, if an otherwise productive colleague is, literally or figuratively, hard to look at, hard to talk to, is that his or her problem, or ours? Where do we draw the line? What’s the right thing for us to do?
What about the lie? People in auto accidents and who contract cancer don’t lie about their situations? Actually, there was a time not too long ago when they did, deny or at least avoid telling people they had cancer and certain other diseases fearing the consequences of adverse workplace reaction. Even in these more enlightened times, people with mental illnesses are still embarrassed by them. Same thing for homosexuality, which is a personal attribute, not an illness, but can still adversely impact personal and professional interaction.
Congressman Weiner has an illness, a mental or emotional illness, but an illness nonetheless. Lying about it is not only understandable in light of the double standard which is evident in the reaction of his colleagues and others, it is symptomatic of his disorder. He shouldn’t resign, certainly not yet, not until medical professionals determine that a recovery can’t be accomplished, that continuing to work is not conducive – from his, the patient’s point of view – to his attaining good mental health.
However bizarre and disturbing his behavior, we need to go out of our way to be tolerant and supportive, to treat him as we would anyone else who wasn’t well.