Falling from grace off a pedestal—a forgivable sin
By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
Lance Armstrong is just one of many superstars who have earned our high esteem only to be punished by deep disdain when failing to live up to our expectations. On a human-to-human basis, shouldn’t people be forgiven for their failures and allowed a chance to redeem themselves? Who are we to judge?
When Lance recently appeared on the podium at the Alchemy 2015 conference, put on by EO-Colorado (The Entrepreneurs’ Organization), it polarized the audience. Many people didn’t want to listen to him; others felt that he’s just a man, flawed like the rest of us. He didn’t make a presentation, but showed enormous courage by agreeing to sit on stage and answer any questions the audience asked of him. Listening to him, and to Aron Ralston, the climber who cut off his own arm to save his life, were to me the most striking sessions of the conference.
We know the facts about these two men, but dig deeper and there’s much to learn from their experiences. Ordinary and superhuman, both fit into Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever,” taken from the EO website.
From bike to pedestal
I don’t defend Lance Armstrong’s history of doping and then lying about it to teammates, fans, officials and the public. He certainly deserved his huge fall from grace. But that is not all there is to the man. What about his determination in beating an advanced, nearly hopeless cancer at such a young age? By sharing his story he became a model of strength and hope for surviving the disease. How about his Livestrong Foundation and volunteer work in fighting cancer for others, especially kids? In an environment where nearly everyone was using illegal drugs, Lance took the fall. Shouldn’t we cut him some slack for succumbing in an untenable situation?
I’m sure all of us can think of times when we weren’t proud of our actions. Because most of us aren’t public icons, we have the opportunity to bury those unpleasant memories. Or, like Armstrong, we can learn from our mistakes, try to forgive ourselves, and move on.
On one level, Lance Armstrong just rode a bike. It was we who put him on a pedestal. He admits he has been a jerk throughout his life and doesn’t know why sometimes he has to consciously hold himself back from still being one. He’s currently dealing with that and other flaws in therapy. One woman in the audience asked, “How can you look your children in the face?” Despite the obvious judgment in her question, he responded honestly with, “It’s hard--and I hope my children are learning from my mistakes.” Lance is in the process of rebuilding his life and we, his former fans and fellow humans, should give him the space to do it. There’s still much to admire, especially his courage in being open about who he is and who he wants to be. I appreciated the follow-up comment of the man in the audience who said, “I forgive you, Lance.”
A life for an arm
If Lance Armstrong’s hubris grew with fame, Aron Ralston’s harrowing experience probably wouldn’t have happened without his overly confident ego. As he explains in his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and was depicted in the movie, 127 Hours, Aron went out into the wilderness alone without telling anyone where he was going, leaving his phone behind. There was no one to save him from his fall. As the only person to have climbed all of Colorado’s 50+ 14,000 foot peaks, in winter and solo, (among other feats), he of all people should have known better. As he lay trapped for five days, he saw clearly how selfishly he had lived his life to that point. With a strong desire to live and learn from his experience, he freed himself from under an 800 pound boulder by cutting off his arm with a pocket knife.
In telling his story, Aron posed some interesting questions, like: What are the boulders in your life and how do you deal with them? And if you thought you were going to die, who would you call and what would you say? Who is the first person you want to talk to when you’re in trouble? Pondering questions like these helps us examine our own lives, including the poor judgments we make on occasion and where they lead us.
Twelve years after his fall, Aron believes that being a father is the ultimate confirmation of everything he learned alone in that canyon, which is that: life is really about relationships, not just about accomplishments; and the universe operates on love. His near death experience became a journey of discovery and enlightenment and a will to live in a better way. His appreciation of everyone and everything around him is infectious and probably changed the thinking of all of us in the room.
Athlete or couch potato, we are human, which means that we are inherently flawed and susceptible to the choices we make. All of us stand on a pedestal in someone’s eyes, and at some point we fall off. Keeping that in mind should help us judge less, forgive more, and learn continuously.