If you had the opportunity to live a “golden life” and achieve your dream of success and fame, would you do it? What lengths would you take to pursue this image or pathway to success? Would you too fall into the traps that both star athletes Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o now find themselves? And, lastly, would you be willing to let go of years of hard work and future dreams in the name of truth?
The recent exposures of Armstrong and Te’o’s dishonesties, deceit and deception have been the topic around the water cooler: “How could Lance lie about doping for so long?” “How could Manti confidently and publicly mourn the death of a fake person?”
Consider the last time you told a “white lie.” You had to leave your best friend’s party early because you “felt sick,” or you could not run an errand for a loved one because you were “too busy.” After a while, once you had repeated this explanation to yourself, you began to believe that you indeed did have a headache and that you did not have enough time at lunch to run by the pharmacy for a loved on. In order to preserve our image of ourselves as good people, or, even as superhuman figures, we block out the memory of our initial self-serving motives.
Across cultures, “superhuman” and larger-than-life individuals are valued in society. Olympic athletes, pop stars, actors, and national leaders are idolized as legendary characters by many of us and have been so in the history of our countries. These individuals feed our own regressed desires for perfect heroes and heroines to emulate and, one day, possibly become. But when we publicly or personally witness someone’s fall from grace, it reminds us of the messier, flawed side of humanity and of ourselves. Clients often speak of the difficulty of admitting their own faults and limitations to themselves. And they are right; to admit to oneself that a mistake has been made or that a change needs to occur can be excruciatingly scary and painful.
This process of honesty towards the self can be immensely humbling. I think that’s the silver lining of any lie or fabrication – the potential for humility. Once we are able to grieve the loss of the “ideal image” or that “perfect self,” we then can explore our actual strengths and limitations, and begin a plan to move forward.
On a more selfish note, I find it reassuring that people like Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o are human, just like me (okay, a lot more athletic, but still). If only society would no longer push for worship of superlative human beings, then maybe our public figures would not feel the pressure to live lies, and, personally, we could be more honest with ourselves. Until then, I am not sure that we are ready to handle the truth about humanity – that each and everyone one of us is flawed.