Looking at Life Through Oakley glasses

In Social on October 22, 2012 at 3:54 am

Looking at life through rose-tinted glasses, we are told, is being unrealistically optimistic about what can and cannot be achieved by the wearer of these glasses.

When I see the clean image of Lance Armstrong, sustained over a decade , mutilated over a doping scandal, I am torn to bits myself and wonder if he saw the world differently through his Oakleys?

I take the concept of a hero for a spin to see how we can address a few annoying tugs of the heart.  I compare Lance Armstrong to a character out of a Greek tragedy, only to understand what makes us tick.  Why do we follow this story, what makes it interesting?

We must shed tears at the end of this tragic play, or it’s not befitting the script.  At the heart of my argument is the concept of a hero’s journey.  The journey a hero must undertake from cradle to grave, through the crucible of change leading to growth.  This mumbo jumbo is better explained with some concrete examples:

The hero’s flaw

We are intensely interested in a hero that has a character, moral or tragic flaw.  A dark secret that remains hidden and is revealed only at the end. This steadily intensifies our curiosity level over time to a crescendo of frenzy.  The end revelation could go one of two directions: a religious salvation if positive or a pagan purgatory if negative.  Both of these are valid character arches of a hero.

While we accept wholeheartedly an uplifting catharsis, we are just not ready for the letdown watershed moment!

So, did he do it?  Was he always clean as he has always maintained?  He couldn’t possibly win seven TDF titles without help from some friends! 

The self-revelation

The most redeeming of all stories has the character go through an incredible change in how he behaves towards himself and others.  What is the proper way to treat others?  This self-realization leads to visible growth.  This change in psychological and moral behavior, expressed by self-realization of the proper way for treating those he has hurt all this time, makes for an incredible growth in character.  Ultimately all stories express growth in a character.

Lance Armstrong has yet to go through the motions of self-revelation as expressed to the outside world.  Yet to tell us, that he has erred in judgement and is profusely sorry for hurting and misleading all of us.  He must be in deep shock right now, but any good PR firm will advise him to get over it.  Like Oedipus who after a self-revelation, gouges his own eyes balls out of their sockets and asks himself:  what have I done?  Armstrong needs to express his self-revelation too, in a way you know that he has repented for his past sins.

Repentance is a universally understood basis and cornerstone of acknowledging and correcting a previously wrong way of interacting and behaving with people.

It almost sounds Christian in thought!

This does not make for a pretty Box Office ending, but such mythical stories have been written about eons ago.  Oedipus of the Greek tragedy, was on a quest to know about himself, which leads him to his own mighty fall.  In other words, self-revelation was not an event, but a life quest for Oedipus.  Hence it may never occur all at once in a magical moment in time.


The Psychological need and Moral desire 

There is a psychological need to win the TDF titles.  Armstrong is hurting himself psychologically and chemically to achieve his goal.  He is also hurting his team mates by coercing them to be part of the elaborate and sophisticated dope program of his.  His initial moral desire is to treat his teammates to the dope so he can clinch the titles.  The combination of psychological need and moral desire is hurting himself and the rest of his teammates, initially.  The International Cycling Union gives him his much needed revelation on a silver platter.  I do not think it can be termed ‘self-revelation’ if it is forced upon you, so let’s just call it a revelation!

Cycling is a sport where you will constantly hear the argument – everybody does it!  Dope that is. If in fact this is true, then Lance Armstrong’s immoral judgement within the confines of this sport is sound.  Immoral, nevertheless.  But it also begs the question if the rest who were losing the titles to him, were not on quality dope?  So everybody was not doing it then?  I wonder if there was doping ambiguity here.  It is however becoming increasingly clear that Team Armstrong did it.

“As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors,” Armstrong said in his statement.

For Armstrong the Livestrong foundation was as important as the TDF victories.  In fact there was an incredible synergy between the two and it is impossible to untangle one from the other.  He not only beat cancer but went on to win the TDF titles, seven times over!  The doping scandal compromises both only because we cannot separate one from the other.  Separate the good from the bad.  There is ambiguity in Armstrong’s judgement.  Can the good of the Livestrong foundation eclipse the moral infraction in how the TDF titles were won?  The International Cycling Union does not think so and has stripped him of all seven titles and banned him for life from the sport.

Ambiguity is in the choice of the TDF victories and the Livestrong foundation. he championed both but has now stepped down from the victories and his foundation.  He was criminalized in one, but you cannot take away the good work done in the other.  The good that the foundation did outweighs the flawed persona that galvanized it’s inception. The hope, love and joy of brotherhood that cancer patients and survivors shared through the foundation is much greater than the crime of it’s founder.  But not everybody is willing to look at it this way:

Armstrong did the right thing by stepping down from Livestrong. My mother and then later my husband suffered and died of cancer. The fight against cancer will always be about courage, resilience and faith and Armstrong can no longer represent that.  –  Treena Clark, NYT. 

Nike in it’s blunt force attack, after being his parter for more than a decade and a half, said:

Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.

Armstrong said in a statement that he wanted “to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career.

Rumors are circling that Lance will come clean on an Oprah show and confess his role in the doping scandal that saw him being stripped of seven TDF medals. Confessions are a big deal. I thought I will use a christian act of contrition to assess how Lance should play out this tell-all Oprah episode. An act of contrition is a Catholic prayer that expresses sorrow for sins. Firstly, here is the prayer as you would mumble to a deaf as post, Fr. Murphy at the confessional:

  1. My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
  2. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
  3. I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things.
  4. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
  5. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.

Here is how Lance may use each of these in his Oprah outing:

  1. People, I am sorry for letting you down. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
  2. I have done good and bad. My medal tally was done through wrongful use of drugs. My cancer foundation benefitted from my wealth and fame. I have learnt that my good service does not outweigh my bad choice. That bad choice, remains a bad choice inspite of my good.
  3. You, my fans have been with me through my ups and downs. I have let you down. I have let down the sport of cycling too. I love you both deeply.
  4. I resolve today, with your support and my family’s love, to shun drug use.
  5. Cycling has never fallen this far down from grace and I single-handedly drove the nails on it’s cross. I have sinned, have mercy on me and allow me to build a sport from ground up, a sport that I helped destroy.


When Lance cries on Oprah later this week, and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards — just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.

– Nicole Cooke, 29, retiring pro-cyclist to BBC

A friend of mine, put it bluntly:

It’s one thing to do it [dope] for yourself. But to organize a program and lead others to participate for your benefit, I cannot agree with this anymore. I was truly awestruck with his feat of seven victories. Not any more. I don’t think he inspires any generation going forward. There are many small time coaches – like my son’s 5th & 6th grade coach, who will inspire the next generation. I see a can do, got to do, fight, hustle, knocked down but still get up and go for it – attitude in my son. All inspired by his coach, who lets them have fun on the basketball court. This is reality.

There is a psychological need to win the TDF titles.  Armstrong is hurting himself chemically to achieve his goal.  He is also hurting his team mates by coercing them to be part of the elaborate and sophisticated dope program of his.  The International Cycling Union gives him his much needed revelation on a silver platter.  I do not think it can be termed ‘self-revelation’ if it is forced upon you, so let’s just call it a revelation!  The change in character happens through the realization that he has been hurting not just himself but the world around him and learns the proper moral way to behave with the rest of the world.  In Armstrong’s case, the eventual moral desire to treat the world right, is yet to happen.  The growth in character is not personal, but enforced.  In fact it cannot be deemed growth if enforced, unless what has been enforced is realized by Armstrong.  The growth story is yet to be written then and we wish Armstrong well in this regard.

So long and thanks for the memories!


john truby is a master script analyst and consultant for hollywood. i use his techniques in assessing characters and plots and this time extended it beyond the movie into real life. he acknowledged a tweet regarding this blog:

@JohnTruby @MarkDarkStory What if Lance Armstrong is assessed as a character in a Greek tragedy?

John Truby ‏@JohnTruby

@peter_vas @MarkDarkStory Armstrong seems to be guilty of the classic sin of hubris; his arc covers the classic story form of rise & fall.

Thursday October 25th, 2012




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