With Lance Armstrong’s confession about to be televised, it is natural to wonder how this could happen. Why would someone lie for so many years, with such conviction and anger, with so many chances to confess? Although it is easy to focus our attention on Armstrong’s upcoming apology, there may be life lessons to learn from the fallout that is about to come to a head.
Lying is surprisingly common. Although it is difficult to study, there is some research that suggests that most adults lie to some extent. This is not an easy thing to research, because the definition of lying can be quite vague. For example, some people will say that lies of omission (avoiding telling something as long as no questions are asked) are not lies at all. This is especially true for those who know that they are doing something that others would not approve of. Thus, there is some justification to withhold information, even though if asked, the person knows that saying otherwise would be lying.
People initially lie for one major reason: there is a discrepancy between that person’s current reality and how the person wants things to be. For a situation like that which Armstrong currently is facing, the downfall comes well before the lie. Like many other professional athletes, there is a great deal of pressure to be the best. As members of the audience, we tend to remember contenders who win. However, winning alone does not necessarily create a strong legacy, yet winning multiple times does. At some point, Armstrong came to a crossroads where he made a decision to use a substance that was illegal in the sport that made him famous. Following that point was self-inflicted pressure to follow through with the same action in order to get the same result (to win). This cycle could have led him to a place where he felt like he had no choice, but to lie, until the evidence had backed him so far into a corner, he had nowhere else he could go, but to confess.
This pattern is similar to addicts who struggle to overcome an addictive behavior. Referring to Armstrong’s current circumstance, there was also the possibility of becoming addicted to the ideal end of a fantasy. For an athlete, as well as many other celebrities, the attention that they receive can become addictive. It is hard to remember that these celebrities are real people. Therefore, they are vulnerable to losing themselves in the intoxication of admiration and adoration. These intense feelings can actually make a person convince himself of a new truth that has been created. For example, it is common for someone who is in treatment for an addiction, who has also relapsed, to get angry when confronted with the question of whether or not they have used. People have the ability to intensely compartmentalize the narrative they have created to a point at which the fantasy overrides the truth.
Armstrong may have also resorted to lies because of his seemingly well-meant founding of his cancer fighting foundation, Livestrong. This organization has become extremely well known for fund-raising, education, and advocacy. It was initially fueled by Armstrong’s fame, and therefore, whether or not he is directly involved with it, it will always be associated with him. Therefore, this may have become another justification to avoid the truth.
The takeaway: As the dust settles on this situation, we may get more answers. We may also end up being just as baffled as we are today. Much of this will hinge on the sincerity of Armstrong’s apology, and the actions that follow his confession. However, rather than getting caught up on the feelings of anger, betrayal, or hurt from a fallen idol’s actions, we can benefit from learning something about ourselves. Lying can be a cyclical, addictive, downward spiral, with a catastrophic end. Therefore, we need to remember to re-prioritize the importance of the unimportant. Also, remember that integrity, in its simplest form, is doing what‘s right when no one is watching. As it becomes more complex, it is accepting what we have done wrong, and doing something positive about it after that point. That is where healing and learning begin, and we grow.