*original artwork by ThingTwo
We tend to think in absolutes. One hundred percents. Black and white. All-good or all-bad.
In books and movies, we often have heroes and villains. One-dimensional characters who are completely heroically good or completely horrifically bad. And then, when real people seem to be somewhat heroically good and somewhat horrifically bad, we don’t know to process that.
It has been interesting to watch this whole Lance Armstrong situation play out. For so long, so many people only acknowledged the good in him. He was a sports super-hero who pedaled a bike faster than anyone else. And he overcame cancer. And he set up a foundation to help raise awareness and support for others with cancer. He was completely heroically good. He was put high on a pedestal, set up as an idol.
And now the pedestal tipped over, and he has fallen. He cheated. And lied. A lot. He hatefully attempted to destroy anyone who called him out on his cheating and lies. And then he lied some more. So now, many of the same people who put him on a pedestal and worshipped him, the same people who saw him as completely heroically good are angry – fuming mad – that their idol wasn’t perfect after all. He was tragically flawed. And so now, in their minds, he is completely horrifically bad.
The thing is – Lance Armstrong did cheat and lie and horribly mistreat people. And also, out of all the cheaters pedaling bikes (and it seems it was almost everyone), this cheater pedaled his bike faster. And everyone else was doing it certainly isn’t an acceptable excuse. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, even without the doping, Lance Armstrong is an extremely talented athlete.
And he did battle cancer. And he won. And he had a heart that wanted to help others, that wanted his greatest difficulty to mean something. He wanted to turn something bad into something good. So right in the middle of cheating and lying and vindictively hurting others, he wanted to see good spring up from evil, and he actively worked to make that happen.
One-dimensional characters may inhabit our books and movies, but we don’t find them in real life. We are complicated. We can lie and hurt people while simultaneously loving and serving and longing to do something of great importance in the world. One bad decision can turn into two, then four, then ten. And before we know it, we are trapped in and feel compelled to lie and hurt others in the name of self-preservation.
Or we feel like we have an image to uphold, a reputation to maintain. And maybe we aren’t famous athletes that all of society has placed on a pedestal. But maybe we have friends and family and a church community who expect certain things from us and tell us how good we are and look up to us. And we know that admitting our failures will cause even our mini-pedestal to rock and our feet to slip. So we may not work as aggressively as Lance Armstrong did to maintain our image, but we certainly do what we can to protect ourselves and our good reputations.
And deep inside we know that we are not nearly as good as our sphere of people believes us to be. But we know that we aren’t as bad as our greatest sin label would make us out to be. We are all flawed to varying degrees, a hazy mixture of good and bad. Works in progress.
We extend grace to each other when we view each other honestly. No pedestals. No false expectations of perfection. No overwhelming, crushing disappointment when we blow it. Just honestly accepting that each of us will make bad choices, sometimes flat-out on purpose and without regard to how we may hurt others in the process. But acknowledging that those bad choices do not erase or negate all the good choices. And we extend grace when we choose to believe the best about each other. When we choose to forgive. Choose to show mercy. Knowing that each of us needs forgiveness and mercy. Desperately.
I have some people in my life who know my flaws, my tragic decisions, my bad-ness. And they choose not to define me by that. They also know my strengths, my talents, my goodness. Yet they choose not to put me on an unrealistic pedestal. These dear people allow me to be a complex, messy mixture of good and bad. Encouraging the good and extending grace for the bad.
I hope Lance Armstrong has those friends in his life. And I hope you have those people in your sphere.