Recently Tiger Woods posted an 18-over 268 at Firestone, a course where he has won seven times. He did worse than all eighty golfers save one. The world's undisputed top golfer for years, Woods enjoyed an image as a mature, responsible father and husband. He was a hero to millions of young people and corporations paid millions of dollars a year for his endorsement. Suddenly, as revelations about his private life hit the news, Woods's world imploded. A loving, faithful husband turned out to be a playboy. His image in shreds, his market value collapsing, his personal and professional life in turmoil, Woods became the star in an American tragedy of his own creation. Whether Woods can recover his game and his adulation remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Woods has plenty of company.
Consider these parallels. A famous Christian evangelist rails against homosexuality from the pulpit at a Sunday service, then boards a plane for a dalliance with a male prostitute. A county prosecutor enriches himself by reducing or dropping charges against criminal suspects for the right price. A banker selects appraisers who agree to artificially inflate their appraisals so that he can give huge loans to select customers at great risk to his bank. A legendary motorcycle builder who is married to a wealthy, famous, and beautiful actress, takes time-out at work two to three times a day to enjoy sex with his mistress. A U.S. Senator who cultivates an image of love and support for his cancerous wife fathers an illegitimate child with another woman during a protracted affair. A political wunderkind who shocks the political world by beating a heavily favored opponent for state Attorney General joins his cronies after work for regular bouts of sex and alcohol with young women in his employ. A popular Governor who is among the top prospects for his party's presidential nomination regularly leaves his family and his state to cavort with a South American lover. Like Tiger Woods, all of these individuals, and thousands more, ruined their reputations and careers through reckless and imprudent actions.
What can one say about people who self-destruct? Some excuse them on the grounds that they were victims of broken families, or abusive parents, or sex addiction, or malicious journalists, or political enemies, or the devil, or fate, or a divinity with a plan.
In my view, these are simply rationalizations. The individuals referred to succumbed to temptations for instant gratification, for short-term pleasure and excitement, the future be damned. They all failed to take the long view. Had they taken the long view, they would have understood that happiness and success require self-restraint, prudence, and loyalty, that a fulfilling life requires earning and keeping the respect of oneself and one's family and associates, that the fact that you can do something does not mean that you should do it, and that in today's world there are very, very few secrets. In other words, they would have cultivated practical and moral wisdom. In this respect, Tiger has a long way to go.
© 2010 Tom Shipka