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  • Reverend James Squire

Why Is Governor Cuomo So Surprised and Shocked?

Let’s apply an ethical lens to the possible impeachment of Andrew Cuomo and the growing number of people who have been asking for his resignation. A reporter stated in New York Magazine, “I never thought the governor wanted to have sex with me. it wasn’t about sex,” she wrote. “It was about power. He wanted me to know that I was powerless, that I was small and weak, that I did not deserve what relative power that I had; a platform to hold him accountable for his words and actions.”

Let’s unpack a complex situation and issue. First, the reporter and another of Cuomo’s accusers use the word accountable. When we read or hear the word “accountable” we think of punishment. Accountability is not the same thing as blame or punishment. To be accountable means to take responsibility for results, good or bad. Accountability provides feedback to people that can’t see a problem with their behavior that is affecting others. Accountability provides feedback to enable a person to become a more effective person in his or her relationships in and outside of the workplace. Jessica Moyer states, “that if you find yourself delivering consequences in an effort to create more accountability, the problem is not your people – it is you.”

Accountability requires feedback which makes it very different from punishment. It may be there, but I have not seen it yet. Who gave feedback to Andrew Cuomo about how his actions made them feel? There has been a cycle that has brought us to a lose/lose situation. Cuomo will lose. The women involved will lose except for the reporter who identified Cuomo’s actions for what they really were, an exercise of power over another.

Let me define the lose/lose. Cuomo will lose because he still does not take full responsibility for his power trip over women. He keeps digging the hole deeper for himself by just focusing on his acts as sexual in nature. That is the manifestation of his power issue. He is saying to himself, “I didn’t do anything sexual to these women.” The women, on the other hand as well as various politicos who are calling for his resignation, will be made very uncomfortable by Jessica Moyer’s observation that if you find yourself delivering consequences such as removal from office, the problem is not only Cuomo, it is also you.

The key here is feedback. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. How the women feel is how they feel. That is what is important. But an ethical response would also ask important questions. Was direct feedback ever given to him? If it was given, did he repeat the behavior? The answers to those two questions are critical. I spent a good deal of my chaplaincy dealing with captains of industry. People thought that since they were good at business, they would be good about family relationships. Often that wasn’t true! People with power don’t necessarily understand how power can be abused when they are doing it. A wife of a top attorney would say, “Smell the coffee, don’t try to make the situation a case that you want to prove me wrong!” A husband of a psychologist may say to his wife, “Don’t try all that psychology stuff on me!”

You can’t just say, “He is the governor. He should know better!” Why? Has he gotten any feedback on his actions? I take it that he has not. If he has and has continued this behavior that is another matter. The dilemma with sexual harassment is that it is sometimes about something else, power. It is the same with other issues such as eating disorders. They are not about food. They are about control that nobody can take away from you.

At EA we were evaluated for everything and on a frequent basis. We had evaluations of our evaluations. It was crazy but important. I set up the evaluation process with people who I supervised in the following way. None of us should get to the final evaluation phase by receiving any surprises. Feedback was part of daily feedback and was welcomed. I also set it up so I would be evaluated by my team in the same way that I evaluated them. During their final evaluation of me, there should be no surprises for me as well. Feedback is about growth not punishment!

Here are the questions. Was Governor Cuomo ever given feedback on his behavior? If not, why not? Did it repeat itself? Why is it so difficult for him to admit that what he did was sexual harassment? Was there a sexual harassment policy? Why does he seem so surprised and baffled and feeling like a victim? Answers to those questions could turn this lose/lose into a win/win. How come people weren’t interested in making him a better governor by providing a check to behavior that is hurtful to these women and in turn to the New York State Government?

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