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The Purpose Driven Book

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"The greatest political saga, the one that has it all, that gets to the real heart of American politics, is the John Edwards story...This isn't just politics, it's literature. It's the great American novel, the kind that isn't written anymore."
- Michael Wolff on John Edwards's trajectory, Vanity Fair

That's the introductory quote on Amazon.com for the "tell-all" written by former political aide and "friend" Andrew Young about his former boss, Senator John Edwards.

But wait that's not all!

2010-01-29-politician.jpg

Good Morning, America carried a teaser interview for a "Special Report" in which Young reveals the existence of a "sex tape" of Edwards with paramour Rielle Hunter.

Stunning, isn't it! Amazon's half-price offer makes you want to double-click your way to tabloid Nirvana!

Let me start by saying that I am no fan of John Edwards. He lied, repeatedly, not only to his wife and family, but millions of supporters of his candidacy for president, as well as many on his own staff. However, after listening to five minutes worth of salacious details regarding "the sex tape" revelation, I asked myself, WHAT, exactly, is the purpose in all this? Edwards's political career is in the dumper along with his marriage. He's acknowledged his paternity of "the baby." So, what's to be gained in exposing the existence of a "sex tape"?

"Knowing your purpose," Christian pastor Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Drive Life, "energizes your life. Purpose always produces passion."

Clearly, Andrew Young's current "passion" is making money off of Edwards's duplicitous actions involving his closest aide. But that's not exactly how the publisher is spinning it.

"Idealistic and ambitious, Andrew Young volunteered for the John Edwards campaign for Senate in 1998 and quickly became the candidate's right hand man... For a decade he was this politician's confidant... assured he was like family... however, Young was drawn into a series of questionable assignments that culminated with Edwards asking him to help conceal the Senator's ongoing adultery.

"...Young gained international notoriety when he told the world that he was the father of a child being carried by a woman named Rielle Hunter, who was actually the senator's mistress..."

Hold it, back up: "Young... told the world that he was the father..."

So, Young admits to his own participation by lying too! If Edwards were involved in a crime, Young could be considered an accessory.

My questions for Young: "How did you explain all this to your wife, and how are you going to explain to your children, at some point, why you lied?"

Loyalty is frequently cited as a reason for agreeing to participate in unethical actions. Andrew Young's close association with Senator Edwards certainly fits this model. It is natural to feel a sense of duty and fidelity to an individual who has earned a level of respect and trust. Under such a relationship, it is not unusual for one individual to expect - sometimes require - that their interests be placed ahead of one's own integrity.

However, the ethical reality is that no one has the right to pressure another to violate their ethical principles in the name of loyalty. In fact, it's an incredible breach of loyalty to ask any friend to compromise their own integrity in order to help protect yours.

"There is a tendency," writes ethicist Michael Josephson, "to compartmentalize ethics into private and occupational domains so as to justify fundamentally decent people doing things in their jobs that they know to be wrong in other contexts... Frequently, one is tempted to [violate] established rules and procedures under the umbrella rationale of it's all for a good cause."

Whether he's aware of it or not, Andrew Young is guilty not only of purposely lying for a friend, but consciously choosing to put the selfish needs of his boss ahead of his own ethical responsibilities as an aide as well as a role model for his family and friends.

When it comes to purpose, it might be useful to consider the words of the Dalai Lama. "Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."

I, for one, will not be lining up to read "the greatest political saga... that has it all."

Jim Lichtman writes and speaks on ethics to corporations, associations and universities. His commentaries can be found at www.ethicsStupid.com