Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Power of the Dark Side

Much energy has been focused this week on Lance Armstrong, on whether he would confess to doping, whether he'd admit all that he's done.  There are many who probably want to believe his conscience is clear now, but I'm telling you it isn't.

I know that he is still lying, I know that it wasn't genuine.  I feel like I've been telling this story for a while, much at the dismay of the believers.  I've been told I'm buying into the witch hunt, that he's just a human being that made a mistake, that he didn't do anything that everyone else didn't also do.  I've been told that any discussion of this situation just adds fire to the flame of his ego.  That it's a waste of society's time and energy to talk about it any more.

It's not a waste of time, and I'm going to tell you why. 

It's not, because as much as my issues with Lance aren't about the bike (the irony here is rich), this issue isn't even about him.  It's about the fact that there are many, many people in this world who fall to the same curse he did.  Selfishness, hubris, narcissism.  Ego.

The people who at some point stop caring about others entirely, who lose all capacity for empathy, who see the pursuit of fame, fortune, desire, attention, power as all important.  Who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and then when they get it, it's never enough.  They always want more.  They convince themselves that they deserve more.  They convince themselves that they aren't doing anything wrong.  They convince themselves that they are somehow owed whatever comes to them, and that the ends will always justify the means so long as it ends just exactly how they plan.

They use and manipulate other people.  They prey on the weaknesses of others.  They take sick enjoyment from controlling everything they possibly can, by whatever means necessary. 

This isn't just about Lance.  It's about presidents and CEOs and movie stars and athletes and cheating spouses.  It's about people that you know and I know.  It's about people who've ruined our lives, who've taken from us, who've lied to a few or lied to millions. 

I caught a bit of an interesting show on television a few weeks ago, and you'll have to forgive me.  I was so immediately caught up in it that I didn't even catch what channel or what show.  Essentially, the take away was that JFK and Clinton and every other leader with infamous personal stories were capable of betraying their wives and families so often and so obviously without flinching for the exact same reason that they were great leaders.  One word. 


It's the same reason that Lance was able to win races and inspire a nation while simultaneously knowing that most of it was a lie, the same reason that he made it look good while he was leaving his wife and intimidating anyone who came near him.  It's how he could sleep at night.

It's the same reason that CEOs of businesses like Enron were able to steal millions of dollars from their employees, then walk into boardrooms and put on the bold face of leadership.  It's how they could sleep at night.

It's the same reason that Presidents can ship soldiers off to war, then host state dinners.  It's how they can sleep at night.

It's the same reason that you hear stories of men who lead double lives, sometimes have a second family somewhere else, but appear to everyone who knows them as good family men.  It's how they were able to keep it all straight.  It's how they are able to sleep at night.

The one thing that all these people have in common is the ability to compartmentalize things.  They can take pieces of what they do, who they are, and place them in tiny little boxes, then shove them to the side whenever it suits them.  Ignore entire sections of their lives whenever it would create a conflict in what they are doing now.  They don't even think about how this choice will affect the other parts of their lives because their minds actually see a clear line.  They think that the dividers they erect in their mind are real, are permanent, and that no one else will ever catch on.  For some, they actually begin to believe that the imagined world they have created is real.

While most people don't exist in a place that allows that, these people do.  I'd say that most people have within them the ability to develop this if they so chose, which is what concerns me more than anything.

There is an argument to be made that we actually need people with this ability to hold the highest positions of leadership. That it's a necessary coping mechanism when you're dealing with sending soldiers to war.  That without it, choices like that would tear at the soul of that person, that they would feel too personally responsible, that it would destroy their ability to make objective, tactical decisions. 

While that may be true for Presidents of nations, it's not true for most of the people who do it.  Most of the people who adopt this technique aren't anywhere near a trigger that could start a war.  Most of them are normal, everyday people, just like you and me.  And most of them hurt those closest to them while doing it. 

I'm not talking today about people with actual mental illnesses, about people who are clinical sociopaths.  A sociopath lacks empathy.  A compartmentalizer has it, but also has the ability to ignore it.  I'm talking about people who actually choose to place themselves and their desires above all else. 

Our society is full of them. 

Our society encourages them. 

Our society is creating more and more of them.  This bizarre world we live in is making more and more compartmentalizers every day. 

We reward greatness, we admire achievement.  We look the other way about how and why the greatness and achievement was attained.  We live in a world that is so immediately connected these days, but that lacks personal responsibility and accountability.  We can be whoever we pretend to be online.  We isolate ourselves, limit our actual social interactions with others.  We carry our phones with us everywhere because we believe that we are so important that someone, somewhere always needs to be in contact with us.  We don't value marriage and family above ourselves.  We use phrases like you only live once to justify stupid decisions that hurt others and ourselves.  We are short sighted.  We are selfish.  We act one way online and another in real life. 

We are teaching ourselves and our children to compartmentalize, and I can promise you this is not a good thing.

It blows me away sometimes how insensitive our society is rapidly becoming.  We live in a world where people lie for over a decade, then claim they never knew it was wrong.  We live in a world where people create false identities to lure lonely people into online relationships for sport.  We live in a world where people have affairs just because they can, and where real families are broken every day.

Many of my friends, both online and in real life echo the words I first heard many years ago in an Al-Anon meeting.  Feel all the feelings. 

Damn straight.  Feel all the feelings.  Once we stop feeling them, once we teach ourselves to ignore them, we lose the ability to connect our actions with consequences.  We need to embrace fear and happiness and jealousy and hatred and envy and joy and all of it.  We need to connect those feelings to our actions, and we need to be aware of how what we do affects other people.  We need to temper our actions accordingly, and not let any one of those feelings dictate how we live. 

Maybe if we felt a little more, maybe if we were less connected and more real, maybe if we understood the ripple effect that is ever present in all that we do, it wouldn't be this way. 

The real lesson to be learned here this week is that the power of the dark side is real, that it's possibility lies within us all, that it can hurt the people we love most, and that the coping mechanism of compartmentalization isn't really a coping mechanism at all. 

It's a rationalization.

A justification, if you will, for selfishness, for hubris, for narcissism.  For ego.
If once you start down the dark path, forever will
it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.
~ Yoda


  1. Brilliant. Well written, insightful, brilliant.

  2. Oh so true. Every word. Damn you're good!

  3. You really need to consider submitting this for publication. Very well-written. And I've been anti-Lance since he treated Sheryl Crow so poorly. I don't compartmentalize. An ass is an ass is an ass.

  4. Brilliant and thank you for these words !

  5. If it wasn't for you..for saying what so many wish they could, in ways that you do. Even when topics are depressing to think of, your content is shiny, your attitude refreshingly and appropriately valiant , your perception..vivid and new.
    This comment is valid for all of your discussions.

  6. Amazingly written. Thank you.

  7. Kelly, eloquently and brilliantly well said. You've really made me think. This is powerful. I'm going to share.

  8. And ends it with a Yoda quote. What could be better.

  9. this made me cry. damage done by compartmentalizers is damage done for life; we don't recover. we reroute, that is all. sometimes i feel like i feel the feelings for everyone who refuses to. it's exhausting work. thank you for being real and calling out the cowards.


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