In the past, when I wanted something very badly, my base instinct was: “what will I have to do to get the desired results.” When I stepped back to look at the situation objectively, I was appalled at how closely I was tempted to skate at the edge of decency and good sense. It was as if everything depended on me.
Later, I realized that my emphasis was on what I would have to do. God wasn’t part of the equation.
Some months back, I wrote about two Armstrong heroes, Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, and Lance Armstrong, the multiple (eight-time?) winner of the Tour d’France, who has since been stripped of those wins because of doping. In the eyes of his decreasing number of fans, much of the shine is gone from all the medals.
We like for our heroes to be good guys, even up close. The latest icon to crash is General David Petraeous, the hero of the Iraqi surge. Afterward, he took command of our military effort in Afghanistan but left the Afghan surge after only a year to become CIA director. His name was even bruited about as a possible presidential candidate. As of last week, he’s unemployed, for reasons evident to anyone who follows the news. The word “hero” is not readily connected with David Petraeous. His reputation and his family are badly wounded.
I am very sad for the man, and for his family. He cast restraint aside to take something which was not his to possess.
We want heroes. We need heroes. They are symbols of the qualities we’d like to possess and of all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. They help define the limits of our aspirations. They expand our sense of possibility. Heroes confront fears or embrace new experiences, allowing us to focus our lives and attain goals that might otherwise have remained merely dreams.
In both the cases of Lance Armstrong and General Petraeous, there’s the sense that we’ve been duped. The issue is that of trust. These men were not what they pretended to be, so how can we trust them? There are some (historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, for one) who would detach the concept of heroism from morality. Ms. Goodwin uses FDR as an example, claiming that our country would have been deprived of his leadership if his affair with Lucy Mercer had been exposed. To that, I would ask—exceptional man that FDR was, couldn’t there have been others from the Democratic Party or the GOP who would have done as well or better?
Setting aside whether his New Deal was a good deal for America, there can be little doubt that President Roosevelt “sold us down the river” at Yalta. He mis-read Stalin and was naive about communism, to the horrific detriment of Eastern Europe. Too often, we compromise honor, claiming that we have no other choice.
At the heart of it, how can we pay tribute to someone as a hero if we don’t trust them? Did he or she achieve the status of hero by cheating? By destroying opponents or taking unfair advantage? We want a Hank Aaron, not a Barry Bonds.
Eric Liddell, the true-life hero of Chariots of Fire, is revered because he stood on principle to honor God and not run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympics. It cost him the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, his best event. He came back later to win the 400 meter run. It’s said that before he went in the starting blocks for the 400, an American slipped a slip of paper in his hand with this quote from I Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor.”
We always have choices. They may not be the choices we want but we have choices. It comes down to who we’re trying to honor …