As someone who has previously noted my admiration for Tiger Woods, I cannot help but be saddened by his recent “troubles.” What I hear from a number of his fellow admirers is not only are they disappointed by recent evidence of his misbehavior, but that it challenges their hope that some athlete or celebrity might meet the high standards of being a “role model.” I think their disappointment is premature.
All humans have feet of clay; all of us are subject to failing to live up to our ideals on occasion. Humans are not angels or Gods–and few of us become “saints.” The hope that “good people” would never fail is a belief any reasonably intelligent human should conclude is unrealistic before he or she hits puberty. Good people, i.e., “role models,” are not “perfect” people.
So we have learned that Tiger Woods is imperfect. Is anyone really surprised? Further, I would assume that last week’s possible-adultery, definite-car-accident represents Tiger at his worst. How many of us would like to be judged on our worst day?
I recently saw the new Richard Kelly movie, The Box [Spoiler alert]. In that movie a possibly-extraterrestrial being, played by Frank Langella, offers a suburban couple, played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, a box with a red button on top. Press the button, they are informed, and two things will happen: 1) they will receive $1 million cash; 2) someone they don’t know will die. They push the button, setting into motion a chain of events that result in dire consequences for their (mis)deed. At first the movie seems to be about human greed: if we can get some large benefit while doing grave harm to unknown others we will do so is Mr. Kelly’s apparent thesis. But then, as the movie nears its conclusion, we realize these extraterrestrials have manipulated events so that their offer is made to the couple (and to other couples) on what is one of their worst days. While Mr. Kelly may think he has made a movie punishing human greed, he has really made a movie punishing human frailty. And I do not need a movie to teach me that humans are imperfect: that thesis holds no interest.
In family court, litigants often try to focus on the other’s worst moments as indicative of the other’s true nature; I don’t buy it. Certainly there are some acts that are so egregious that the mere act of committing them is important to consider. Certain other acts if done close to the time of litigation–adultery, child abuse–have mandated legal consequences. And acts that are repeated and consistent are reflective upon a person’s nature. However litigation that revolves around the day someone lost his or her temper and yelled at the children or threw a book at his or her spouse or failed to buckle his or her children in an approved child safety seat is cynical. Most of us are not the selves we reveal in our worst moments, though how we react in our worst moments is somewhat indicative of character (and acting honorably in one’s worst moment is indicative of exemplary character). However a culture that supposes our true selves are revealed in our worst moments is a cynical culture and I am unclear how it is helping our culture to become increasingly cynical.
The past two weeks have revealed that Tiger Woods may have committed adultery and gotten into an argument that led to some reckless driving. We have further learned that when confronted with negative information about himself, his first inclination is to stonewall. I assume this is his worst moment: if it is, the past few weeks that have revealed nothing that disqualifies him as a role model. I have always assumed Tiger Woods was imperfect; all we have learned the past two weeks is how Tiger is imperfect.