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When the chips are down, the way you've lived your life matters

February 24, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

In living our lives, we may face a dozen major decisions that will have a serious impact on us and those around us. But every day we face dozens more that, while seemingly insignificant at the time, can have an incredible effect in times of crisis.

It's known as our body of work, our decency, how we've treated other people and generally how we've decided to live our lives. These little decisions can be as simple as a smile, a kind word, helpful act or giving the overall impression that we know we are not the only person in this world who matters.

Del. Bob McKee, who resigned last week under the cloud of a child pornography investigation, might not feel like going out to the local grocery store at the moment. But it's my guess that at this point - and who knows how the investigation will shake out - he might meet with more sympathy than derision.

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So what's going on? Child pornography understandably has one of the more heinous connotations of any taboo going. If it's the stranger who lives down the street, you think "creep, letch" and don't let your kid go within 10 blocks of his house.

But McKee is emblematic of something that, if we haven't learned it by now, we never will: Good people have weaknesses. And he's emblematic of something else too: If you live your life in a decent way - choosing to make all those little decisions the right way - people who would otherwise not be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt will do their best to try to understand those weaknesses.

McKee resigned his seat, resigned his position with Big Brothers Big Sisters, apologized, said he was seeking treatment and cooperated with the investigation. Reading between the lines, I almost got the sense of some small bit of relief - that an unpleasant chapter in his life that he was not proud of and could not control was finally over.

Contrast this with U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, he of the wide stance, who fumed, denied, spouted off and blamed everybody but himself for his alleged come-hither foot tap in a men's bathroom stall. Craig habitually slammed gays at every chance; McKee, in contrast, worked for legislation benefiting kids. When looking at their respective bodies of work, is it any wonder that McKee receives a greater benefit of the doubt?

In baseball, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were both accused of steroid use, but their responses have been polar opposites. Pettitte is remorseful, Clemens remains in denial. Further, Pettitte has lived a life of quiet kindness and dignity. Clemens, beyond his pitching ability, is remembered for surliness and throwing a bat at catcher Mike Piazza.

Yet Clemens seems truly mystified as to why the American public is not disposed to giving him a pass. It's because of the little things, Roger, not the big things. That's what it boils down to. As they said in the Wizard of Oz, are you a good witch or a bad witch?

The response from McKee's colleagues in Annapolis - Sen. Don Munson, Dels. LeRoy Myers and Rick Weldon - were human and heartfelt. They offered prayers and concern. Only the Republican party itself saw the need to issue a stern "shocked and troubled" rebuke - which is an indicator why no one is buying into the Maryland Republican party these days.

For the most part though, there was no "distancing." No "Bob who?" Instead, there was genuine sadness. If McKee were to stand trial, is there any doubt that a number of people would gladly stand as character witnesses?

Normally, "hate the sin, love the sinner" is cheap cover for hating the supposed sinner. But here the clich actually holds up.

This isn't to trivialize the seriousness of the offense. Some argue that what you choose to view in your own home is your own business. While that may be true with adult porn, that is the adult "model's," for lack of a better word, choice to make. Viewing child pornography is aiding and abetting those who force vulnerable kids into actions against their will, probably damaging them for life.

When we call the behavior "sick" we may be closer than we know. The creatures who traffic in child pornography are not only preying on kids, they might also be preying on people with an illness that predisposes a fascination with the product.

We like to say we have a representative government, and that's exactly what it is. In the main, we are a people of shortcomings, so it is hardly a shock - even though we act shocked - when people with shortcomings are elected to public office.

Even Jefferson had his secrets. When these secrets pop into public, the people who have led a good life do the rest of us this favor: They make us think. Were McKee a jerk, we would spit, jeer and revel in his discomfort. We would chalk it up to just another bad person behaving badly. Then we would close the door.

But McKee is not a jerk, just the opposite. So we try to understand. We may be a bit slower to rush to judgment next time it's happening to someone we don't know. And we may even think about seeking a cure.

Most important though, we may see how kindness, civility and following the Golden Rule in our day-to-day lives might one day come in handy when the chips are down.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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