What would have happened during the 1992 Democratic Primary if Bill Clinton had said: "You know, while I'm devoted to my wife, I view sex as something altogether different. My wife and I have an arrangement, I do and will have other women in my life, but that in no way compromises my leadership."?
He would not have won the Democratic Primary, he would not have been President, but he would have been truthful (something we presumably value). Clinton is not the only politician to have ever strayed; one might argue that faithful politicians are the outliers. Do voters want to know about these affairs? Or would they prefer to assume goodness, hope the infidelity stays hidden, and then be self-righteous if it comes to light.
Of course infidelity is not particular to politics; it happens in sports, religion, business, and in everyday life. Despite this, "customers" - fans, congregants, employees, media, partners, friends, etc. - are always shocked at the behavior, wonder what mysterious and diabolical circumstances contrived to make it so, and wonder why these people are unable to "control" themselves?
What's more, by turning a blind eye to any one "bad" behavior, are we not tacitly sanctioning them all? Having "gotten away" with the fidelity lie, is it any wonder that President Clinton claimed not to have inhaled? Sure eyes rolled at that, but in the end, there was no accountability for either smoking pot (not that that really matters) or lying about it. There are many other peccadilloes that human nature says are within us, yet we persist in expecting people to transcend their genes.
Taking this to the next step, if we expect and forgive lies, surely we can't expect the lies to be limited to meaningless acts like smoking pot or having an Oval Office "O"? What else might a dishonest President lie about??? Are we ready to accept that?
In the business world, a smart company will under-promise and over-deliver. They do this knowing the value of setting clear expectations and the cost of failing to meet them. If the company develops a reputation for always achieving or exceeding expectations, they know that that currency is worth something - it could be a premium at the point of purchase or market value or even more critical, customer retention and loyalty. Equally, a smart company will not make a promise it can't keep. They will not set an expectation knowing that they can't meet it. This is good business. In both cases, the rewards are clear and the company benefits in the long run.
Facing your truth and setting the right expectations is what we should all aim to do; but our society doesn't want this; it prefers the illusion over reality. Look at Enron or Bernie Madoff or every too-good-to-be-true diet program, and the fact that people will flock to the next Enron or Madoff or diet pill to know that we prefer to gamble on goodness or outlandish promises despite the history or the massive odds against success, believing that this time we will buck the odds and find the one honest politician, or win the lottery. Either way, we mostly end up disappointed. And because we keep coming back for more, there is no shortage of predators creating "disappointment opportunities."
I think this phenomenon contributes to the downward morals/ethics/behavioral spiral. In the old days, we lived in (and were known within) communities. The community - your neighbors and friends and family helped ensure a broader ethos using both active and passive reinforcement; we don't have that today.
Instead the precepts of society and the canon of law expect us to fail; they spend all their energy anticipating and policing these (potential) failures, and publicly "recognizing" the miscreants with trials and the like. So what behavior is modeled for impressionable minds???
Are there societal examples where good behavior is rewarded (i.e. "Congratulations!! You get a free petrol/gas coupon because you adhered to the speed limits!")? I can think of two - first where good students or talented athletes (or both) are able to get scholarships to reduce higher education costs, and second, reduced prison sentences for good behavior.
So other than helping convicted felons reenter society early (a rather ironic incentive), when does society actively reward positive behavior? I did a quick search to see what I could find, take a look for yourself - it's not pretty.
Isn't it a shame that there's so little we do to reward ourselves when we've achieved more than expected? If human nature is so filled with "vices," why shouldn't Clinton have gotten some kind of reward for being honest and admitting that he's a horny old man, but still a good leader?
Instinctively, most parents (or pet owners) know that positive reinforcement leads to better (and more sustained) behavior in children or young animals than negative reinforcement. Why do we flip that as we become adults? Science tells us there is a big difference between telling someone "Don't forget to pay the rent" and "Remember to pay the rent." The parts in bold are the most likely outcome.
It is this simple - we must expect more of ourselves, and we must encourage others to do the same; we can do this by taking the energy we invest in finding and showcasing failure, and putting it into rewarding success.