I watched the headlines about Lance Armstrong tumble out on Twitter last week. One after the other over a series of days. I wasn’t surprised to see the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal publish their investigations, but even blogs like Business Insider and gossip columns got into the act.
It’s hard to deny that doping was involved in Lance Armstrong’s career, but surprisingly, I don’t think that’s the most important element. Again and again I find people responding with disbelief and even a certain righteous indignation. The ultimate story here is about lying.
Years ago I watched a fantastic Bloomberg panel hosted by writer Michael Lewis. It was filled with clever and engaging writers who were Wall Street experts. I found it particularly amusing at the time since the financial industry was in a complete freefall. At one point, Lewis asked the panel a common question, “Why do you write about what you write about?” Several writers discussed the high flying antics which were a daily occurrence. It was the drama, or as one writer mentioned, “the white hats and the black hats” in the industry.
And then the only woman on the panel, Bethany McLean, spoke up. She is the co-writer of the wonderful book, “The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.” McLean acknowledged the crazy behavior which was business as usual for the traders, as well as the good and evil which ultimately surfaced. However, she quietly contradicted the idea that actions were always apparent. She stated something like, I often find that there’s actually no grand plan. Instead, you have well-intentioned people making one decision at a time, hoping each one will work.
I was reminded of Bethany McLean’s statement as I read the Lance Armstrong coverage. It seems that a certain level of doping was necessary to even get through competition, let alone win. You have to wonder if each of the cyclists who have come forward hoped that doping would be an isolated experience. David Zabriskie explained, “I questioned, I resisted, but in the end, I felt cornered and succumbed to the pressure.” Maybe they thought the situation would surely shift during the next season or two, and things would work out on their own. After all, individuals couldn’t be singled out for prosecution if the entire industry was under scrutiny. Everyone would have to clean up, and simultaneously everyone would get a clean slate – right?
This week, you may not be facing a situation as dire as the sport of cycling, but take a moment to ask yourself if there’s a white lie or two lurking in your world. A difficult condition shrouded with, “Well, everyone acts like this.” As writer Patricia Briggs reminds us, “Hard truths can be dealt with, triumphed over, but lies will destroy your soul.”