I found myself enjoying a good laugh at Governor Mark Sanford's expense yesterday, when his somewhat clumsy email professions of love were read out over a national television channel. And I realized even as I laughed that it would have been equally embarrassing for me if my own clumsy efforts from many years ago had been read out. Love letters are hard to write without seeming coy or seamy (as I remember, mine tended toward the latter!) and they are clearly intended for an audience of one--a one who reads with a less than objective eye.
But this is not about literary skills, but rather about a deeply human drama. It's easy to laugh at a public figure in the predicament in which Sanford has placed himself, especially one who has made a point of touting his own moral probity and taken every opportunity--for political reasons--to impugn that of his fellows. Sanford has not been reluctant to make his opinions known about the sexual exploits of figures as diverse as Bill Clinton and Larry Craig, and his hypocrisy, now exposed, leaves him more vulnerable to mockery than he might otherwise be. Add a hefty dose sanctimonious, religion-based self-righteousness to the mix, and you have an excellent source of harmless hilarity.
Except that it's not really harmless, even when enjoyed in the privacy of one's own home. The Governor himself is hardly affected by my schadenfreude, but from the karmic point of view it is surely no merit to be making hay of the human failings of others--especially when they are failings that I myself have indulged in the course of my life. My laughter, sadly, is not about the person who provoked it. It's about me. And while I don't want to get too sanctimonious about it myself, it does not reflect well upon my character. To watch a man trying desperately to rescue some part of his life--his job, his future, his marriage, the trust he has built with his children and his friends--from the ruinous results of all too natural sexual urge is honestly no joke.
Compassion, not laughter, would be the more honorable--and more Buddhist--response. And I fear my laughter was not of the compassionate kind.