We’re all good…until we’re not. The hope is that we’d be mostly like Sir Thomas More, in A Man For All Seasons, who answers his daughter’s pleas to compromise his ideals in order to save his own life: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
In my newest, unpublished novel, The Accuser’s Burden, dozens of people witness a form of sexual assault. But when questioned by authorities all of them deny their observations for fear of losing their jobs if they defend the accuser.
When explaining King Henry’s power, Sir Thomas More says, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But, if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And, if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”
The question is put before all of us at one time or another. How much power does any one person hold over another and what’s the cost of yielding to that power even when one knows it is wrong? In The Accuser’s Burden, heroine Giovanna is attracted enough to power that she overlooks a flawed character.
It didn’t end well for Sir Thomas More. He was beheaded. Though death isn’t congenial, he concluded that to live having sacrificed his integrity would have been unbearable.
In our contemporary culture, the CFO of a bank files false numbers with the SEC because he’s told to; an assistant coach witnesses a sexual assault on a child, yet doesn’t tell anybody. The sacrifice of integrity is justified by fear of harm to oneself.
Sadly, things haven’t changed all that much. We’re not publicly beheading people in the town square. I guess you could call that progress. But like the victim in The Accuser’s Burden, the loss of employment, the specter of being forever unemployable, becoming a social outcast—all in the name of integrity—is a burden that grows heavier and heavier as he struggles to prove his charges.
Like A Man For All Seasons, the theme of The Accuser’s Burden is integrity… the stand and the pursuit of justice to hold it untarnished. Yes, there’s a price but it all ends with a grand payoff when Giovanna steps up. It’s fiction. But the question I have for you is…does it have to be? Does every man have a price?
How blurry has that line between good and bad become? We’re all good…until we’re tested. We’re all good…until we’re not.
When was the last time that you were tested? I’d love to hear your stories.