The Case of Jeffrey Epstein and a Lesson in Temptation

Jeffrey Epstein made national headlines when he was outed for human trafficking. The details of his crime are revolting and hard to stomach. Had it not been for Epstein’s prolific resume, the national news may have paid him little mind. But seeing as how Epstein’s interests included ownership of a financial management firm worth billions, his arrest was something of a “big deal.” The Wall Street mogul had influence, money, and power — three things our national news finds worthy of reporting. And three things every person craves to some degree.

Yet Epstein’s rise and fall overshadows another problem: when someone of Epstein’s stature is outed, what is the proper response and what can be learned from his mistakes?

The First Offense

A story like Epstein’s can cause people to have one of two reactions: shock and disgust or an unsurprising revelation. In many instances, both emotions can manifest. For the narrative surrounding the rich and famous has always been a cautionary tale. Quotes such as “absolute power corrupts absolutely” come to mind. Where there’s lots of money to be had, there’s liable to be a trail of broken hearts, unique sacrifices, and a laundry list of moral compromises to be found too.

This doesn’t stop people from chasing (or achieving) financial prosperity though. In spite of the potential pitfalls, an eager idealist will chase his or her dreams to the end of the rainbow. The American dream encapsulates it. So for many bystanders, Epstein’s fall from grace could be viewed as wasted opportunity. A tale of a man who squandered his riches. A man who should have known better.

The abuse of power he exerted over others comes as a secondary offense, not the first.

Priorities Shape Decisions

I don’t know Epstein personally, but I’m sure he didn’t expect to be a prison inmate one day. When he founded his own company, he wasn’t saving a portion of his income for when he’d need expensive lawyers. He was probably thinking about how he might expand his ever-increasing empire.

Epstein’s priorities were obvious to the public. He wanted to make money; to be a financial tycoon. By all accounts, he achieved that goal. But it wasn’t enough, it seems. Somehow a desire to be wealthy gave rise to other desires.

Therein lies the greatest question of all: when and how did Jeffrey Epstein decide to become a human trafficker? At what point did the priority of being a successful businessman morph into the morally depraved action of taking advantage of underage girls?

It should be said that not every wealthy person is a sexual predator waiting to happen. Not every financial savant is aiming to own a private island with orgies and a sex trade. Yet when it happens to someone of Epstein’s standing, we pay especially close attention. We begin to equate influence with immorality; wealth with corruption; power with deviancy. If one possesses these traits, then he is on the fast track to an Epstein-like ending someday.

This will only occur if priorities shift. Or, as we’ll see below, we have not taken the time to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.

Owning Up To Temptation

My last piece dealt with the tale of David and Goliath and how their exchange was not an underdog tale. David was prepared — more so than even his challenger, Goliath. David had knowledge of his own strengths and he was prepared to use them. In this way, he could overcome whatever trap was laid out before him. He knew he held an advantage. He was prepared to win.

Knowing there are traps everywhere, how do we avoid them like David? The answer is simple: we don’t. To live in avoidance means to skirt with temptation. The biggest reason why people give in to temptation is because they don’t take temptation seriously. They believe temptation is not something that could ever afflict them. It’s either beyond them or beneath them. This is the first mistake.

In the case of David, he was a champion against the likes of Goliath. But after he became king, he committed what would become his greatest sin. He was tempted by the beauty of Bathsheba; a woman who was married to another man, Uriah. And since he had not shielded himself from the temptation, he sent Uriah to his death and took Bathsheba for his own (after committing adultery with her). The result of their tryst was a troubled birth, a child who died young as a consequence for David and Bathsheba’s joint sin.

You may be married and have an attractive coworker sitting near you. You may have innocent interactions throughout the day. But the moment one’s behavior begins to change around that person, the trap is set, and the person of integrity you thought you were can be exposed. All because you didn’t take the temptation seriously. You didn’t believe it was worth your effort to know yourself, or to know this was a trap for you.

The Bottomline

I was tempted to write about the devastation left in Jeffrey Epstein’s wake. To think that hundreds, if not thousands, of young girls have been ushered off into private jets, treated as objects for sexual amusement, and then discarded once their usefulness was considered moot, made me sick. I wanted to blast Epstein for his immense crime and pour gasoline on the fire that is already encircling this man.

But to do only that would be unwise. For just because Mr. Epstein had money, power, and influence, it did not make him immune to the temptations of this world. These attributes simply allowed him to indulge his perversions, doing so with regularity and a sense of entitlement. Many of us have no idea the kind of person we’d be if faced with the same magnitude of persona. To sit and judge and consider ourselves set apart merely because we are middle class or lower, would be foolish. We all have some measure of influence, no matter how small, and if given the keys to the kingdom, what might we choose to do with it?

The answer might surprise us.

Writer, host of The Writer’s Lens podcast

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