April 1, 2020

The Lance Armstrong Hero Syndrome

As Lance Armstrong’s latest Oprah interview hits the network, it has me thinking deeply about heroism and our society’s obsession with labeling people into perfect role models.  While like many I am saddened to hear about Lance’s use of performance drugs, I am far from devastated as a result of not being a particular follower of his, however I can deeply understand the devastation and loss that comes from the disappointment in being let down by a role model. I’ve been fascinated by the negative and deeply disturbed response he has gotten as a result of his departure from honesty that took away his heroic title.  Mainly I am interested in addressing one of our society’s biggest hurdles in becoming evolved human beings, the fixation with superheroes.

I think one of our generation's biggest problems is the “Lance Armstrong syndrome”, otherwise known as society's obsession with an unattainable belief in the heroic man. With perfectly airbrushed high gloss magazines, super hero movies, and commercial ads depicting synthetic perfection, its no wonder we have become skewed in our ability to maintain a healthy realistic approach to human beings who tout heroic titles. We have become obsessed with the belief that certain people who are classified as society’s perfect image are not capable of falling.  And when that fall takes place, after we have worked so hard to elevate that person whom we believe is our hero that now sits high on the pedestal of ideal, we are completely at a loss, devastated, and even cynical to heroism as a result.  The truth is I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to believe the heroic man exists, but I also don’t want to become disillusioned when I’m left disappointed. Does it really have to be all or nothing? Can’t we have heroism without the devastation and the disappointment attached when things go wrong? Is there really one person who can depict it all without contending with their fallible human vulnerabilities? Of course not! Maybe it is these labels causing our own downfall and forcing us to believe in an unattainable simulated figure perfectly airbrushed to sell copy. There must be a healthier way to believe in heroism all together.

For me heroic figures have been rediscovered many times in my life. I have been left angry and other times I have become weary over the possibility of their existence at all. But I think there is a way to look at heroes without all the calamitous emotion rearing its head forcing us to believe it is completely nonexistent. 

I know I am always inspired by those folks that really mess up their lives but have the guts to take it back even when it seems all has been lost. But what about those who never take it back? What about those who don’t own their mistakes? The lost and disenfranchised heroes who really mess it up for the real ones? How do I stay inspired with those guys around? It is not always easy to achieve perfect. It is complex. I refuse to believe heroism is completely impossible. But, I’m pretty positive perfection is. Maybe those figures that have let us down remind us that heroism is a state of mind. If we look deeply at ourselves we can find a little hope that heroes can exist, probably in every one of us, but not as a blanket rule or even as a perfectly high glossed figure devoid of any and all human errors to contend with.

Rather, heroism should exist as an attitude, not as a person. It should be treated as a condition. Sometimes that condition perseveres, and sometimes it expires. The ones that fall the furthest after being infected by this “condition” have the hardest climb to make. Maybe you can’t take a pill to bring it back, but you can certainly find it again.

I’m not excusing heroes who fall nor am I defending their mistakes, I’m simply taking society to task on insisting we force our version of heroism down their throats. Maybe if we can re-brand the “hero” title we won’t be so devastated when the next president has an affair, the next golf athlete ruins his marriage, or the next roadracing cyclist takes performance drugs to earn a massive title. Lets not get stuck on whether heroes exist or not, lets get stuck on realizing heroic moments prevail, that way we won’t be so disappointed and readily discount it all when the curtain comes down and we see the man behind the hero.

Maybe a true hero is one who climbs that mountain and then falls, brushes himself off, looks in the mirror, sees his faults, admits them, lowers his head in humility, and then gets back up stronger, more determined, with a little less ego in the mix. Maybe heroism is not one person, but moments in a person's life that are fleetingly heroic. I haven’t watched Lance’s interview yet, so I can’t judge on whether his words were an attempt to retrieve what little dignity he has left or an honest approach at real amends and rediscovery, but just in the case he has decided to do the interview for the sake of making true amends, just in the off chance he is taking this moment to realize his human failings, will I try to glean a small lesson from his moment. Maybe this is his true heroic moment and not the moment he falsely won the Tour De France. For I do believe we all have it in us to become a Lance Armstrong, a hero who falls and then does some Oprah interview in an attempt to better ourselves so we can get back up, if that is indeed his true intent. If it is not, then once again, we may have to look elsewhere to find our hero moment from Lance Armstrong.

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