The irony of this week’s Ashley Madison revelations turned the drama around Joshua Duggar from a troubled life into a Shakespearean tragedy. The protagonist himself said he was “the biggest hypocrite ever.” It’s easy to agree. But before we move too swiftly to write this story off as the tale of one good apple gone wrong, let’s capture the larger meaning of his epic fall and learn from it. We all can.
The cautionary tale of Josh Duggar is the story of a man who tried to run from himself, to deny parts of himself that brought him shame and discomfort. The lesson is a crucial one: choose self-discovery and self-development, because the demons you ignore can devour you.
Looking the Other Way Doesn’t Solve Anything
Since a young age, Josh Duggar had serious issues around sexuality, leading him to cross ethical and legal boundaries. His preoccupation, or as his family called it, “curiosity about girls,” didn’t fit anywhere into the identity that was strictly defined for him by his world. So as a teenager, he followed his family’s lead to diminish the seriousness of the situation. He apologized, got forgiven, and poof! The issue was gone.
Of course, real life doesn’t work that way. Fast forward ten years and we can see the plain if challenging truth in his story:
1) Running from yourself just doesn’t work. Indeed, trying to hide, deny, or cover up the uncomfortable sides of yourself brings serious consequences. That’s in part because in trying to avoid them you fail to transform them.
2) The better choice is to lead yourself. That means you’re willing to turn inward and face parts of yourself that don’t fit into the neat picture of who you think you are. You take self-reflection seriously, and you take responsibility for examining and changing unhealthy parts of yourself. This goes a long way to reduce the risk that you’ll harm yourself and the people around you. It also unlocks extraordinary potential.
To be clear, we’re not Josh Duggar. The guy spent years campaigning for the “sanctity of marriage” while consuming internet porn and cheating on his wife. Most of us are not living a “double life” as Josh called his own experience. His unresolved inner conflicts are extreme.
On the other hand, over twenty years of teaching self-development to people, I’ve rarely met someone who didn’t embrace certain parts of themselves and reject other parts. In little and bigger ways, nearly all of us look away from ourselves. Then we cross our fingers and hold our breath and hope for the best. This is not the way to go.
Ironically, there is a moral to the Josh Duggar story. Just not the one he claimed.
Don’t run from yourself. Choose instead to confront and transform your inner material. Take it from Josh: learning to lead yourself turns out a lot better.