I heard a story once about a Holocaust survivor who moved to Los Angeles and restarted his life. He married, built a successful business, and raised four sons. When his children were young, a man came from Israel collecting money for a chicken farm he was building there. This survivor was very grateful for his recent good fortune and he wanted to give back. He also wanted a piece of the land of Israel. So he made a small donation.
The fundraiser came back year after year and each time the man gave larger sums of money. Finally, when his boys had grown, he decided to take them to Israel to see their investment. Address in hand, they got off the plane and eagerly drove to the spot.
Imagine their dismay when all they saw was empty, ownerless land. When he recovered from his initial shock, this man turned to his boys and gave them some stunning advice. “Let’s make sure that we don’t use our disappointment today to become cynical and bitter. Let’s make sure that, despite this experience, we continue to give tzedaka – and to give it generously.”
I thought of this story as the sordid tale of Lance Armstrong’s doping and lies has been unfolding. It wasn’t his athletic prowess that we respected. It was his (seeming) determination and grit. It was his (supposed) gratitude. It was his (alleged) desire to help others and give back through his Livestrong Foundation. Just the title of his book – It’s Not About the Bike – suggested that he had wisdom and perspective.
Upon discovering that none of it is true, the temptation is to become cynical and bitter. Why believe in anyone or anything? Why believe in ourselves?
We have to work hard not to let the feet of clay of our public idols destroy our belief in mankind’s potential – and in our abilities. We have to be like the man in the story and spin his advice for our personal situations.
Yes, being good is difficult. Yes, temptation is everywhere. Yes, the desire for fame is powerful. But we have the ability to fight it. And there are good people who in fact do; they’re just not being interviewed on Oprah. No studio heads are producing shows about the wise, the kind, the good. They aren’t making newspaper headlines or tweeting about their accomplishments. But they’re there. And we can join their ranks.
The worst possible fallout from this Lance Armstrong debacle would be to lose hope, to give up on ourselves and others. I’m not going to give him that power. Not only is it not about the bike, it’s not about Lance Armstrong!