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As long as I’m learning and becoming a better person: a lesson in contemporary morality

June 18, 2012

This is part of an interview with Rielle Hunter—conducted by Oprah Winfrey and reported by Bob Woodruff—on April 30, 2010, on ABC News’ Good Morning America. It isn’t posted primarily as an exposé of Hunter. She’s back in the news again, and this interview came to mind today. It’s a great example of where our self-centered moral relativism (i.e., relative to me) leaves us.

(Hunter and Winfrey are on camera. Woodruff is reporting from his news desk.)

Woodruff: “Riell Hunter says she’s no home wrecker.”

Hunter: “Absolutely not. I didn’t make a commitment to Elizabeth. I wasn’t the one lying, like, to her. I followed my heart, and I believe it was the right thing to do.”

Woodruff: “Showing little remorse, Hunter tells Oprah Winfrey that her relationship with a married presidential candidate was a learning experience that made her a better person.”

Hunter: “More compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more aware.”

Winfrey: “Do you regret being a mistress? Do you regret being a . . .?”

Hunter: “No, because I learned a lot. It went against every part of who I am, everything I believe, but I learned so much from it. So I don’t regret it.”

So as long as she didn’t lie to Elizabeth, it was okay to bed her husband. This is a curious mentality. Adultery is okay as long as the participants learn something and don’t lie about it. Adultery okay; lying bad. And then there’s the commitment thing. I guess the real moral wrong-doing was John Edwards’ since he had made a commitment to Elizabeth and apparently lied to her. Rielle shares no responsibility for what John did. And what if John were just following his heart? No, that’s no good, because he broke a commitment and lied. Commit adultery if your heart says to, but for heaven’s sake don’t break your word or lie. And don’t fail to learn something either.

The matter of becoming a better person is puzzling, too. “Better” implies a standard. What is Rielle’s standard? Is it self-defined? If so, then her actions were only justifiable to herself and anyone who accepts her self-assigned standard. Things get tricky here, for what she did went against what she believed, she said. Yet it was “the right thing to do.” She was following her heart (which was, apparently, out of sync with her own standard of behavior). So it is right to go against every part of who one is, everything one believes, if one’s heart says so. So the heart comes first and one’s own beliefs and actions trail behind. This makes sense if standards are apparently relative to the individual and fluid. And what directs the heart? When external standards disappear, the will takes over. To whom or to what does the will answer?

Here are some questions I’d like to ask Rielle. First, what if her heart inclines her to do things that are destructive to other people? Should Elizabeth have been grateful that at least Rielle didn’t lie to her? That’s some consolation, isn’t it? What really matters is that all’s well that ends well, right? For Hunter, anyway. She learned and grew. That Elizabeth and the rest of Edwards’ family were terribly hurt in the process is incidental. Just collateral damage.

Second, and flowing directly from that scenario, how on earth would a society hold together if everyone thought and acted this way? Would it be okay with Rielle, for example, if the roles were turned around and it were her husband who engaged in an affair with another woman (who, of course, didn’t lie to her or break any commitments to her and who learned something)? In such a moral environment, whom do you trust? A person can tell you she wouldn’t do certain things, but if her heart does a flip-flop, tough luck for you.

Let this radiate in your imagination throughout society. It’s scary, isn’t it?

(If you’re wondering about the source for this, I videod it directly from the TV screen. I could post that in a public forum, but ABC might object, and we can’t afford a law suit just now.)

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