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February 12, 2013 10:47 am

Do Heroes Exist, The Lance Armstrong Syndrome

avatar by Chava Tombosky

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Cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Photo: wiki commons.

When I heard about Lance Armstrong’s recent Oprah interview it got me thinking deeply about heroism and our society’s obsession with making people into perfect role models.  While like many I was saddened to hear about Lance’s use of performance enhancing drugs, I am far from devastated being as I was no particular follower of his, however I do understand the devastation and loss one might feel after being let down by a role model. I’ve been fascinated by the negative and deeply disturbed response he has gotten as a result of the exposure of his dishonesty that saw him stripped of his heroic titles.  Mainly I am interested in addressing one of our society’s biggest hurdles in evolving as human beings; our fixation with superheroes.

I think one of our generation’s biggest problems might be termed the “Lance Armstrong syndrome,” otherwise known as society’s obsession with an unattainable belief in the heroic man. With perfectly airbrushed
glossy magazines, super hero movies, and commercial ads depicting synthetic perfection, it’s no wonder our ability to maintain a healthy realistic approach towards human beings who tout heroic titles has become skewed. We have become obsessed with the belief that certain people who are classified as society’s perfect are not capable of falling.  And when that fall takes place, after we have worked so hard to elevate that person that now sits high on the pedestal of ideal, we are completely at a loss, devastated, and even feel cynicism towards real heroism as a result.  The truth is I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to believe the heroic man exists, but I also don’t want to become disillusioned when I’m left disappointed. Does it really have to be all or nothing? Can’t we have heroism without the devastation and the disappointment attached when things go wrong? Is there really one person who can depict it all without contending with their fallible human vulnerabilities? Of course not! Maybe it is these labels that are causing our own downfall in forcing us to believe in an unattainable simulated figure perfectly airbrushed to sell copy. There must be a healthier way to believe in heroism altogether.

For me, heroic figures have been rediscovered many times in my life. Whether the top golfer who ruined his marriage, or the next road-racing cyclist who takes performance enhancing drugs to earn a massive title, let’s not get stuck on whether heroes exist or not. Lets focus instead on realizing that heroic moments prevail, that way we won’t be so disappointed and readily discount it all when the curtain comes down and we see the man behind the hero.

Maybe a true hero is one who climbs that mountain and then falls, brushes himself off, looks in the mirror, sees his faults, admits them, lowers his head in humility, and then gets back up stronger, more determined, with a little less ego in the mix. Maybe heroism is not one person, but moments in a person’s life that are fleetingly heroic. I haven’t watched Lance’s interview yet, so I can’t judge on whether his words were an attempt to retrieve what little dignity he has left or an honest approach at real amends and rediscovery. But just in case he has decided to do the interview for the sake of making true amends, just on the off chance he is taking this moment to realize his human failings, I will try to glean a small lesson from his moment. Maybe this is his true heroic moment and not the moment he falsely won the Tour De France. For I do believe we all have it in us to become a Lance Armstrong, a hero who falls and then works to better ourselves so we can get back up, if that is indeed his true intent. If it is not, then once again, we may have to look elsewhere to find our hero moment from Lance Armstrong.

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