Have you ever been involved in a scandal?
Live long enough and you’ll have some connection, if only casual, to a person who is either rightfully or wrongfully implicated in a scandal. The news in itself can shake up communities, rattle institutions, and shatter relationships. Also, whether actual or contrived, transgressions of this nature become fodder for gossipers, further damaging reputations and causing disgrace.
As my true story demonstrates, actions have consequences. The truth almost always comes out, and stakeholders have a right to know what transpired. Still, does every last detail belong in a public forum?
Mr. Maxwell and the Coed
My earliest encounter with a real-life scandal involved a teacher. While in seventh grade, I belonged to a student organization for which he served as the faculty advisor. During that year, I had a fair amount of interaction with him. When I entered eighth grade, he had transferred from the junior high to the high school (ninth through twelfth), so my contact with the man ended then.
Since it was a long time ago, one of my friends had to remind me of an odd habit of his: munching on Maxwell House coffee grounds that he took right from the canister. Thanks to her recollection, I’m referring to him as “Mr. Maxwell.”
I did not need help remembering his high standards. While on the staff of his organization, we were to serve as role models for the school. Along with our behaving like leaders, Mr. Maxwell expected us to dress a certain way. Considering his focus on appearances, no one was surprised that he’d direct our annual Miss Junior High beauty-talent pageant.
We all knew Mr. Maxwell favored certain coeds. In turn, we sought his approval. Why? He was a somewhat chubby man with thinning hair and peculiar personality traits—e.g., those coffee grounds, for heaven’s sake! Still, he was a male authority figure who understood and used his power to manipulate impressionable teens.
Despite his fan club, many students, especially males, couldn’t stand him. Maybe they knew something or sensed he was up to no good. Also, as various teachers and parents applauded his dedication, some had doubts about Mr. Maxwell but couldn’t prove anything was amiss.
One of my good friends didn’t trust Mr. Maxwell as far as she could have thrown him: not a bit! Confiding her concerns to me, she did not like the amount of time a mutual friend was spending with him—on behalf of the organization—after school and on weekends. The idea that anything improper had or would occur between them was highly improbable to me back then. Regarding that friend, I maintain my assessment. Mr. Maxwell, however, was not the harmless “old” man I naively thought he was.
After joining the high school staff, he got involved with a female high school student. Facing an incredibly difficult predicament, her parents gave their approval for the couple to marry, and Mr. Maxwell and the coed moved to another town.
That’s all I heard or cared to learn.
Where did they settle?
Was she pregnant?
What kind of job did he land?
Did they live happily ever after?
Aside from being none of my business, their relationship disgusted me. I didn’t want to think about it, much less discuss it. I was relieved he was not lurking around town and hoped never to see him again. Today, I feel deeply for the young, innocent girl who fell into that predator's trap.
The Rest of the Story
I didn’t know (or maybe I’d forgotten) the rest of the story until a friend recently shared it with me. The not-happily-ever-after ending reminds me of something Flannery O’Conner (the 20th century master of the gothic short story) might have written. That said, repeating the salacious details so many years later would not enhance anyone’s life.
That’s the thing about a scandal: rehashing events after all is said and done can often cause more harm than good. Such talk easily turns speculative and gets embellished.
What constitutes a compelling reason for making a scandal known to the public?
• To repair and mitigate damage
• To restore order
• To uphold the law
• To apprehend a perpetrator
• To seek justice and obtain restitution
• To prevent a reoccurrence
What are some weak reasons for sharing and perpetuating the news?
• To be the center of attention
• To entertain oneself and others
• To deflect from one’s own shortcomings or transgressions
• To satisfy a vendetta
Scandals come in all varieties. At one end of the spectrum are those with far-reaching implications that necessitate utmost exposure and intense scrutiny. At the other end are entirely private matters.
In all cases, truth and discretion plus compassion for any people who have been or could be harmed should prevail.
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady
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