Monday, February 22, 2010

Tiger Woods Scores a Bogey

I have followed the career of Tiger Woods since he was in high school. I regarded him as a refreshing example of talent and character. Revelations of his marital "transgressions" was more than a surprise--it felt like a good friend had lied to me for years.

On Friday Tiger publicly apologized for cheating on his wife. In some ways his apology was completely unremarkable, and in others it was a stark contrast to the mea culpas of other celebrities. I found the latter somewhat heartening, while the former left me disappointed.

I am certain that his words--like the image that he had developed--were well-crafted. So it is difficult to tell how sincere his apology actually is. However, unlike the cynics who are claiming that he is only sorry for getting caught, I know that men can be truly remorseful, that they can recognize their errors and correct them. I would like to believe that Tiger is one such man, but as he remarked, his true apology will come in actions, not words.

Unlike others who have found themselves in similar circumstances, Tiger did not try to make excuses, justify his actions, or mitigate his responsibility. He accepted full responsibility for his actions, and in the process, revealed at least a portion of the psychology that led to his deplorable behavior.

Tiger admitted that he thought he was above the rules, that he deserved to succumb to temptations, which wealth and fame made readily available. While he did not say it, he believed that his accomplishments on the golf course, which resulted from an unparalleled devotion to his values, allowed him to act against his values in his personal life.

This conflict remained hidden from the public until last November, at which time Tiger's carefully honed image disintegrated. Tiger's soul was exposed as that of a second-hander, that of a man who lived one way in public and another in private. In public he was presented as a devoted husband and father; in private he was a philandering scoundrel. The reason, Tiger claimed, was because he thought of nobody but himself. But the truth is, Tiger did not think of himself--in fact he did the exact opposite.
Isn’t that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he’s honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand.
If Tiger had truly thought about himself, he would have realized the destructive consequences of his actions. Destroying one's reputation and threatening one's marriage (if it is a value) is certainly not in one's self-interest.

Tiger's response to this selflessness is to return to his Buddhist faith. In other words, to overcome his selflessness Tiger will embrace more of the same. This is, to use golf lingo, par for the course. It is certainly common for those who engage in self-destructive behavior to blame selfishness, and then proclaim that they will think of themselves less.

Tiger's success on the golf course has been a purely selfish pursuit. His endless hours of practice and training have been aimed at benefiting one person--Tiger Woods. He could not, and indeed no man could, maintain passion and focus if the intended beneficiary was anyone but himself. (Certainly others--his family, his foundation, and fans to name a few--have benefited, but they are incidental.)

Tiger has declared that for the moment, his focus is on saving his marriage. If he truly wishes to do so, then he must be selfish in that pursuit. The same selfish passion and dedication that has made him a champion golfer is necessary if he is to be a champion husband and father.

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