Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Armstrong, Cheating and Rationalization Fascination

The dialog around Lance Armstrong and his fall from grace with the admission of doping has been intriguing, with the majority of people being thoroughly disgusted.

I am intrigued by the dialog, with my curiosity falling into the category of “rationalization fascination”.

But first a digression ….

If I murder my neighbour, it is considered an illegal and immoral act and I am punished as a result.

If as a soldier, I kill the enemy (for whatever reason), I am considered a hero, doing what it takes to protect my buddy, my nation and the world-at-large.

If a woman aborts a fetus, not for the protection of herself or her unborn child but because the pregnancy is inconvenient, then this act is referred to as asserting personal choice.

If I am sentenced to death for committing a heinous crime, this act of killing is referred to as justice.

They are all the same act of taking a Life but which present four different interpretations based on context and perspective.

We live in a world of win-at-all-cost

In our world today, we are taught to do whatever it takes to win.  Sure we talk about collaboration, win-win and all of that stuff but a lot of times, the message that reaches our brain, whether because we are told implicitly or explicitly, is to do whatever it takes.

When the stakes or rewards are low in the grand scheme of things, our sense of morals and ethics is not really tested. 

However, I would posit that when the stakes and rewards are very high, it is at that point that our sense of right and wrong is really tested and we are challenged to understand what our interpretation of do whatever it takes really is.

And so while it is easy to be critical of Lance Armstrong and what he did, I wonder how many of us would automatically take the ethical / moral / legal highroad when faced with a situation where the reward potential for ourselves, our family, our company, etc. is very high.

It it easy for us to say that we would automatically do the right thing.

But having worked with many people over the years who risked huge failure in order to manifest huge rewards, I can assure you that the lines of what it is in and out of bounds get very blurry when much is on the line.

There are many gray lines in Life when the stakes are high.

And so, while I believe Lance Armstrong definitely did the wrong thing, I see a different perspective as to why he did it.

I would also suggest that if you can’t understand why he did it, then perhaps you haven’t lived to your ultimate potential yet, where you would be forced to face the temptation to violate your own morals and ethics because the reward potential for doing so was so great.

Those who have lived to their highest potential know the difficult choices I am referring to.

Lance Armstrong is a product of our society

In a society that suggests that you do what you want and beg for forgiveness later, I would suggest that Lance Armstrong did the wrong thing … but we as a society encouraged him to do so.

It’s similar to the paradox of capitalism.  In capitalism, we are encouraged to grow our business as large as we can make it …. until our success is so great that we are considered a monopoly and are broken up, fined or punished in some way for growing too large.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 7-9, we have the popularly quoted lesson:

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. – ESV

While I don’t condone Mr. Armstrong, for his cheating and what he put others through to cover up his actions, I can’t judge him either because I, like many in my circles, have been in the situation where I had to choose correctly.

And many of us in that situation know that oftentimes, even the greatest amongst us fall to temptation when said temptation offers tantalizing rewards or the opportunity to hide from paralyzing or humiliating punishment.

This is not a licence to just allow anyone to do anything.

However, it is not a licence to judge without appropriate context either.

And so I will lay my stone and walk away.

What will you do with your stone?

In service and servanthood,


PS It could be said that to be quick to judge others without context allows one to overlook one’s own difficulties, shortcomings or mistakes.  However, to suggest this would be judging others, wouldn’t it? :-)


  1. Hi Harry,

    I was looking at your blog tonight and thinking that sometimes we like things black and white, but grey is the only option. I have Christian friends who told me for years the rules of integrity and they do try to live by them. However, they are all flat broke because they have put themselves into a financial prison within their own mind. They are so black and white they feel they have to be nice to everyone and therefore can't make the hard decisions. They don't understand they have to put their own oxygen mask on if the plane is going down and continually putting the children before their own success. Therefore they have no success. But they reason that God is stopping them because "they couldn't handle success, it would corrupt them," or they reason success away with some other "spiritual" insight like demons stalking their prosperity. The reality is... They have no stomach for difficult decisions and they don't want to face the man in the mirror and take responsibility for the way things are.

    When a public figure makes big mistakes or bad choices he pays dearly for it. That is a fact.

    How many choices do we make in the dark that we hope nobody sees? Everyone has a skeleton or ten in the closet. When I was in ministry I use to tell people "the most dirt that you will find on me is under my kitchen table." I learned early that there were those that would point out my faults to discredit me so why not point out my faults myself and leave them without ammunition? It created humility in me at the same time and it was very effective in raising loyal disciples who were willing to do anything for me. They did not want a perfect leader. They wanted a human leader with real faults and they loved me because I was totally transparent. Nothing sneaking up that would destroy their image of me. It was a good life.

    It has been hard to walk that way in business. You have to break some eggs to bake a cake and sometimes others can't figure out why you broke those eggs. They don't understand why you would let that client go, or why you chose to pay the one bill first before the second, or why you hired Sally but let Joe go. Every day there are the hard choices and some days there are even harder ones. There are decisions that you know you could explain if you were given the chance to explain, but you also know that there are those who won't give you the chance. You look for those who are loyal even when they see your faults and you give your time and loyalty back to them, even when you see their faults.

    You are right...

    It is a good idea to put the stone down.

  2. Hi Kerry,

    This is a powerful sharing. Thank you for sharing it with me. :-)

    I think you are right - with experience comes wisdom and context ... and it does make things look more grey than one initially thought!

    Create a great day!