When something like the Lance Armstrong cheating saga hits the news, we tend to become armchair judges rather than life learners. In this case, the lesson is about the shades of grey. Maybe we should keep wearing the rubber wrist bands that Lance made famous but change them from yellow to grey, as a reminder of what author Graham Greene wrote, “Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.”
Reality Number One:
Good people do bad things, which is important to remember for at least three reasons.
- So that we don’t live in denial and put our heroes on too high a pedestal. Keep appropriate boundaries with priests and teachers, no matter how “good” they are. Watch the expectations and pressure on sports stars, politicians and gurus no matter how pure they seem.
- So that we don’t give up believing in our values when “good” people betray us. Don’t let one act of betrayal define your life or principles.
- So that we are mindful of our own choices, even though we consider ourselves “good”. Don’t get complacent about your own achievements.
Reality Number Two
Bad people do good things, which is important to remember for at least three reasons.
- So that we don’t give up on people who have made bad choices. In the words of the novel “Kite Runner”, there is a way to be good again.
- So that we stay open to what we can learn from ALL people. Everyone has something to teach us, more in their humanity than their heroism.
- So that we keep believing that we can work our way out of any mess we get ourselves in to. No bad choice has to have the final word in our life.
Reality Number Three
Good things can come from bad actions. If Armstrong cheated, as it seems like he did, does that take away from the good that he achieved in raising millions for cancer research and motivating millions to stay optimistic? Who can ultimately weigh the relative merits of the damage with the benefits? And what is the end point at which we should judge the good or bad? We’re still in the middle of it all. There’s more story to be told. That’s why it has to be grey.
Reality Number Four
Bad things can come from good actions, so you should never get complacent or arrogant. In Billy Joel’s song Shades of Grey, there is a line that says, “And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.” This is basis for fundamentalism- the lack of doubt. It’s how wars are started.
There are things I’m sure about, but far fewer of them as I get older. Billy is so right.
Shades of grey wherever I go. The more I find out the less that I know.
Keep living strong, even when you’re wrong. Even when you get the wind knocked out of you by news of another hero who cheated, even when you disappoint yourself, even when bad people surprise your carefully composed worldview, keep living strong. Strength is found in the shades of grey.
Others have to weigh the good and bad in their own heart. You don’t get that luxury, but you do get to weigh the good in your own life, which is a great place to focus your attention. If there is good to come out of bad situations, and I believe there is, it will be for each of us to renew our commitment to living with integrity.
Stop judging the “bad” people and ask yourself some questions:
What good thing can I do now?
Can I forgive myself for poor choices?
How can I take disappointing circumstances and make something good of them?