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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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  1. rhea says:

    Thanks for this great article which shows there is no point in judging at all, not someone else, nor your self. Just keep the focus on how to be the you can be, loving and caring, sharing with yourself all the joy we can find within our selves and giving this back into the world. with love rhea

  2. Well that just stumps the obsolete “the end does not justify the means” thingy then. I was a little apprehensive reading the article since I was taught by my Teacher, who is also a Priest, about  motives, means and consequences. But after reading unto the end I do believe you’ve got the point.

    It all boils down really to being yourself and accepting some factors in life that we can’t control and embracing the ones we can. There is no point to becoming perfect when we know all too well we are simply imperfect vessels.

    Personally after this, grey is the new white now.  Thanks.

  3. Elena Philp says:

    At times I remember times when I did not act with integrity, and I cringe.   Living well is living with awareness that we can all fall-and we can all soar. It’s good to remember that Divine Love always forgives us our flaws, emulating that love as much as we can even in small ways would make life easier. When there is a long queue at a store checkout, I bless the checkout operator because people often get impatient with him or her.

  4. Larry says:

    While flying as an Air Force exchange aviator at the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun, our practice air engagements would unfold favorably or not. At the post-flight debriefs, two lists were placed on the blackboard. The two were entitled “Good” and “Other”. As the “Other” usually could or would affect one’s health and welfare if repeated, it tended to receive greater attention. However,
    if you lived to tell an “Other” at the flight debrief, “you did not hit the ground today” and the projectiles were mere simulations. I suppose the debrief items were shades of gray that could lighten or darken should the lessons not be learned. And so it is!

  5. Pippa says:

    Thank you so very much. I find myself clinging to your words like to a life raft. I have had such a painful time over the past 18 months dealing with my siblings as we  sort out my late father’s affairs. In my view they have behaved appalling badly, both to others and towards me – whilst I have tried to hold onto some principles and integrity – it has been a very damaging process which finds me hoping that I never have to have anything to do with them again,  whilst also fearing any contact because I have felt so threatened and intimidated by them and am acutely aware of how manipulative they can be – presenting an acceptable, even charming face to the world whilst behind the scenes behaving very differently (like the women in the children’s  film “Witches” if you know that one – that is the image I have in my mind and it is at times terrifying)- and – perhaps worst of all – getting away with it . How to come to terms with all that and move on to a better place myself when the legacy of anxiety is so huge?
    Reading your words of wisdom which ring so true,  helps to re-orient my thinking into a better place and give me hope for both my future and theirs. Thank you.

  6. ian says:

    Best thoughts to you Pippa. As hard as it is at times, I’m a big believer that integrity and living according to your own values is NEVER the wrong choice…..IN THE LONG RUN. Be strong!

  7. Kelli Roig says:

    You manage to provide a balanced view in your writing that is inspiring and a learning experience. Thank you for the depth of your understanding and objective presentations of difficult subjects. Kelli Roig RN @NurseWorkz and @MindfulChoices

  8. Nando says:

    One more reality, Ian, if you allow me to add to it.

    The obsession of success and recognition is abnormal. And it works both ways: the extreme approval of the successful people and the extreme disapproval and loneliness and absense of support for those who are not (successful). Those aspects put a relevant weight on decisions like the one Lance may have done. And on the decisions a lot of peeple are doing in this very moment to keep up on the way to success (or money or recognition etc).

    We need integrity, to put value on that. Truth, integrity, equanimity. 

  9. ian says:

    Great point Nando- taking it to a deeper level

  10. ian says:

    thx Kelli- much appreciated

  11. *Seeded!*
    Spreading like a weed of the delicious variety.

  12. travelyn says:

    It is so easy to be judgmental, but I’m sure most of us have fallen short of our own self expectations at some time or other. As long as we strive to be caring and compassionate towards others. This goes a long way to making a better world..

  13. Belinda Federl says:

    Its good to remember that even out of integrity we can do bad things without quite realising it – we are all flawed in one way and another.  Out of  bad situations I became a poet, a Lay Chaplain and a part of a voice for a community!  That came from running from an abusive marriage, subsequent depression, breast cancer and a part of a family that has cut me off from them!  Out of all this my teenage son has become mini entrepreneur and his future is assured employment wise.  I am not perfect and make wrong choices all the time – it what you do with that wrong choice that matters and move forward and give people a chance to redeem and forgive. This argument is not easy when someone has done such an awful crime that is almost unforgivable but then it is not necessarily in our hands to forgive and a higher being to that!Too much kindness can be negative, but kindness and compassion to each other is all that that we need.  Lance Armstrong shattered illusions of hero worship but somewhere out of desperation to win and be seen as a hero he made bad choices – I don’t think it was for the money (along with some others I may add as that was the nature of the sport at that time).  He has made good with his donations – cancer can do that to you, change your life around and give back. So maybe you could say that from a bad choice in life immense good came out of it …..  Who are we to judge until we have walked in another’s shoes?Excellent and thought-provoking article.  

  14.  Very Nice blog post..Thanks for sharing.D

  15. Jim Smith says:

    as a sports massage therapist I have a deep insight to the world of proffesional sports. It’s shortsighted to believe Armstrong is a cheater and has let so many people down. the reality here is he got caught, so many called for his head while cheating themselves.  One should not forget his wristbands are a cancer support charity so changing the colour of them defeats the actual meaning. And by demonising one person whlie the sport is rife with drugs is nothing short of hypocrisy. As human beings we should learn lessons daily and the main one here is not to judge.