I was watching Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball” while looking for a topic for my next article. My cellphone has an app where I am alerted to breaking news, and a story “broke” that several parents in the infamous college admissions scandal were claiming they weren’t making bribes.
Coincidentally, the Burn’s documentary was at the chapter on cheating during baseball’s steroid era.
My response was cynical. “Why is it even news anymore when privileged people or public figures cheat and lie?”
We are lied to by politicians and celebrities who flip-flop or backpedal on positions and statements.
We are lied to when verbs are used to minimize the meaning of an indiscretion (the definition of “is”).
We are lied to with manipulated or made up statistics.
We are lied to about previous lies.
So why are we surprised when we are lied to by baseball players, golfers, bicyclists, actors and hedge fund managers?
They hit baseballs farther and ride bicycles faster; they move us with celestially-inspired words; or they earn our adoration as they journeyed to wealth or fame.
Perhaps because we know how flawed we are personally, we participate in stories of transcendent greatness that belie human nature. We create myths around sports figures, political leaders and performers and elevate their narratives to transcend what we fear most: our vulnerability.
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The storylines leave no room for anything that debunks the myth; like the truth. And here’s the irony — we don’t even believe the stories! Who really thought Barry Bonds had no idea he was given steroids? Is anyone going to put a real money wager on Roger Clemons telling the truth? Or Lori Loughlin, for that matter?
Were we really surprised to find out they were using what was available to them to remain at the top of their game?
If we believe the axiom that winning is everything (or getting your child into a prestigious college), can we be surprised when our winners did whatever it took, or hid whatever they had to, to reach that plateau?
Do we secretly want them to lie when their flaws are revealed?
Contradictions arise when we use myth and not reality to determine the rules we play by. Those “offenders” offended our one provision — don’t get caught.
Ethics guide society toward civility, but many ethical decisions are based on false premises, as false as a magician elevating above the sidewalk. They are an illusion to give us a sense of living in a world that suits our fantasies and diverts us from the reality that life might be too human.
We end this perpetuating paradigm of ethical paralysis by gazing at our own reflections and determining to judge others only as we would wished to be judged ourselves.
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
Meanwhile, all we ask is that you don’t let us know you’re lying and cheating. If we find out you’re doing what we already knew you were doing — we’ll bring you down!
I told you I was feeling cynical.