06/23/2011 03:25 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2011

Transparency Is the New Privacy: Keys to 21st Century Citizenship

In the never-ending circus of bad judgment brought about by terminal narcissism, I am sure we will continue to see politicians implode on the altar of sexual and/or financial improprieties. I don't think it's so much the acts themselves that are at issue, unless (of course) laws are broken. We are, after all, living at a time of unprecedented openness and acceptance of human behavior. No, I think the far more important issue in the ethics debate is about honesty, integrity and transparency.

I never thought I would be quoting Ronald Reagan, but he did say the following: "An actor knows two important things -- to be honest in what he is doing and to be in touch with the audience. That's not bad advice for a politician either."

21st century citizenship describes a set of values, paradigm shifts and practices that raise our awareness of how to better engage with one another in the digital age.

Remember how our grandmothers told us growing up that it was so much easier to tell the truth? After all, they would say, if you tell the truth, you never have to remember what stories you told to cover up your lie. So make life easy for yourself: tell the truth. Clearly, that seemingly simple lesson is a hard-won kernel of wisdom for the likes of, among many others, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, Arnold S., and the walking Teflon advertisement otherwise adored as Bill Clinton.

Speaking of Clinton, my thoughts on the whole Monica thing, then and now, were that he should have just immediately fessed up, brought Billy Graham to the White House for a heart-felt absolution, appeared with him on the South Lawn before all the press and proclaimed himself a redeemed sinner. Done deal. Can't touch that! America loves its redeemed sinners, its comeback kids. Tears would have been good, too (look what they've done for John Boehner). But I digress.

Private is private, just don't be hypocritical. I think most Americans who just want to get up in the morning and go to work don't really care what goes on in the private lives of other human beings. Far too many of us have been blindsided by our own experiences that challenge our prior beliefs about ourselves, our family, loved-ones and friends -- whether it is about gender identity, financial gain or loss, the security of our jobs, our health and vitality, our addictive behaviors ... The list goes on. I think we all want to be compassionate. But we always want to be dealt with honestly.

Ironically, in the 21st century, the more transparent we are, the more we deal straight from the hip, the more candid and authentic we are, the more we are going to be left alone to live our lives with our own dignity, our own integrity, and our own privacy -- even if our choices, preferences and tastes are different from our neighbor's.

So, for example, I think Al and Tipper Gore just got to the end of the road in their marriage. Hey, it happens ... No scandal, no other man/woman, nothing hiding in the closet. What we saw was what we got. I'm sure digging occurred, but nothing turned up. The story checked out. On to the next. Live and let live.

A wonderful teacher of mine once said: "In perfect vulnerability, there is perfect strength." It seemed so counter-intuitive at the time. I mean, how can you be strong with your guts spilling out all over the floor and everyone looking at you? But I get it now: if we are strong enough to stand up inside and claim our humanity, with all its flaws and inconsistencies, then we are free to forgive ourselves and move on. And that freedom gives others the freedom to forgive us, too. And then, to forgive themselves. And on and on.

Transparency is a good thing.