I don’t know why, but I’ve never taken much interests in most scandals having to do with atheletes. I read them to keep up with the news and so i will not get completely lost in the water-cooler conversations of the day. I read about the Micheal Vick scandal because I love dogs. That someone with plenty of money, subject of hero worship and advantages in life that most people can only dream of, it seemed especially deplorable. I had been trying, without much luck, to ignore the buzz leading up to the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong and his confessions. I did watch the 2nd through 7th Tour de France that he won. Unlike the scandals, the actual sporting events can be amazing. They can be great spectacles all on their own and also cause us, well me and some people anyway, to recall every sports metaphor about life – the struggle, the defeat, the hard won victories – the capacity for sport to sometimes lift us as spectators. While I am not the sports fan I once was I do remember the tremendous emotional and ego investment in routing for someone or a team to win. The admiration for those who continued to give their all even though they were far behind in the last minutes of the game and no real chance of winning. Those moments that are played for personal pride. I expected to let the post Armstrong commentary to be the usual morass of opinions ranging from the sympathetic to the strangely triumphant – a great misdeed has been punished, an arrogant so-and-so gets his. Like most people, it is one of humanities common denominators, I have been cheated. So like everyone else I can relate to the resentment at those who not only cheated but have done so in a way that was especially flagrant. I’ve read about some of the things Armstrong did to other people – “bullying”, character assassination, public humiliations. All certainly wrong. The people he actually caused harm are a relatively small group as scandals go – say in comparison to the military analysts that fed the public a lot of propaganda about Iraq during and after the run up to the invasion. Many feel that Armstrong was not honest enough or contrite enough – Contrition or contriteness (from the Latin contritus ‘ground to pieces’, i.e. crushed by guilt) is sincere and complete remorse for sins one has committed. The remorseful person is said to be contrite. They might be right. yet as far as public confessions go by my pass experience in person and via the media, he did not fail completely. The hedging and rationalizing was to be expected. This is where Twitter can be a good gauge of the general tone and depth of the public’s attitudes – many people have passed some extremely harsh judgement. Maybe he deserves it, maybe not, I honestly do not know what the appropriate level of outrage should be in Armstrong’s case. Though his behavior, the decision to go public, with the full knowledge of how his every word would undergo scrutiny and be ripe for ridicule did make me wonder about how we put a high value on honesty, confession and apologies, yet our behavior actually discourages people from doing those things. This goes back to when kids first learn their parents are liars. Parents tell their children not to lie. Lying is wrong and it is always better to tell the truth. Kids do something wrong. When confronted they could lie, maybe they hedge a little if they can ( children start falsifying narratives as young as three). Sometimes parents will counter with the tried and true, well I’m disappointed in what you did and confessing doesn’t make it right, but thank you for being honest, now go to your room to ponder what you did wrong. Though just as frequently, if not more often, the child is punished. The child’s brain, very much the same brain in terms of seeing one’s actions in terms of rewards and punishment twenty or forty years later, responds by asking itself what the hell just happened. They said telling the truth was always the best thing to do, the virtuous thing to, truth is supposed to be its own reward – now I’m going to be punished for telling the truth. If I’m going to be punished for telling the truth, that means a lie will keep me from being punished, at least until someone has proof I’m lying. That learned compartmentalized behavior is what we saw when Wall Street banks, mortgage companies and hedge fund mangers crashed the economy. They took a tax payer funded rescue, with a couple of exceptions, they did not apologize or admit fault. As a matter of fact many of them got angry because some people said they behaved badly. Not only did they get angry at much of the public, but they put a lot of their considerable political influence and money into defeating politicians and legislation that posed any threat to their under-regulated financial shenanigans. What if the banks and the Wall Street scoundrels had confessed and apologized after the financial collapse – even in an Armstrong way with the hedging and rationalizations. How would that have affected our culture, economy and politics. What if those military analysts had confessed they had a radical political agenda that they let trump telling the truth. What if Bush 43 and Cheney would apologize tomorrow for playing fast and loose with the truth about Iraq and their negligence in handling financial regulation. These people would get their share of ridicule. Though like Armstrong’s’ imperfect confession, these other confessions might move us as a society to make some major shifts in public discourse and policy. We could be the parents that shake our finger and say that they were wrong, but we appreciate the good you have done by being honest.
This an interesting, and in my opinion, fair minded take on Armstrong told through residents of his hometown, – Austin Loses Its Hometown Hero.
The connection between power and capriciousness. Another phenomenon that most us us are aware of through life experience, Power’s Punishing Impact – Research Links Power and Tendency to Punish Harshly
Often, employees are shocked by what they think is a supervisor’s severe reaction to a subordinate’s seemingly minor transgression. The supervisors who punish them seem to be so absolutely sure that they are doing the right thing—they have a clear sense of purpose and there are no arguments to sway them.
New research by Scott Wiltermuth, a USC Marshall School of Business assistant professor of management and organization, and co-author Francis Flynn of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, found that providing a sense of power to someone instills a black-and-white sense of right and wrong (especially wrong). Once armed with this moral clarity, powerful people then perceive wrongdoing with much less ambiguity than people lacking this power, and punish apparent wrong-doers with more severity than people without power would.
The research alerts managers to some unforeseen challenges they will face as they come to hold more and more power, according to Wiltermuth. The research results appear in a forthcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal.
“We noticed in our MBA classes that the students who seemed to feel most powerful had these absolute answers about what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Wiltermuth.
“We found the same phenomenon when we made other people feel powerful, and we also found the resulting clarity led people to punish questionable behavior more severely. That link between power and more severe punishment could cause a huge problem for managers. What a manager sees as appropriate punishment could be seen as absolutely draconian by other people.”
Wiltermuth and Flynn set up four experiments in which they made some individuals feel powerful—giving them the ability to control resources and administer rewards or punishments. When presented with cases of transgressions, the powerful participants were more likely to say “yes, the behavior is immoral,” “no, it is not immoral”.
Very few powerful people answered with “it depends,” which was a much more popular answer among the less powerful. Owing to this certainty, the participants made to feel powerful felt that the transgressions deserved harsher punishments.
Guess when those with power start to feel a little more ambitious. When they star considering rewards like bonuses or raises. One of the remedies for this behavior, and is asking a lot for a culture that puts an unhealthy amount of admiration for personality traits like confidence, is the cultivation of a healthy amount of self doubt.
Moments with genius Written by the Illinois Writers Project [between 1936 and 1941]. “Poster for a radio presentation “Moments with genius” by the Barnum Radio Players on radio station WBBM.”