Assessing Character

This posting was inspired after watching Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah.

As a blanket policy, I do not make my assessments about how I feel about a person  –  their trustworthiness, etc,   – by the worst moment of his or her life, the worst decision they ever made or the worst mistake they’ve made. I think Jesus said it best with “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone…”

I am especially forgiving of bad decisions people make when they are still in their teens or 20s (or still very much an adolescent in their maturity which can transcend age).

I’ve never met a person who made mistakes during this stage of life that taught them invaluable life lessons which they wish they could have learned without learning it the way they did. Sometimes in life, making mistakes that cost friends, money, opportunity,etc, is the only way to learn.

Fortunately, they are still young and can recover, reset and grow into someone they can be proud of being.

Thus I find myself far more interested in who they become afterwards, once they have learned their lessons, faced their daemons and built a different life because of it.

Often times the story of what came afterwards… how they cleaned up their messes, built a better life, recovered from personal or professional disaster etc., is the model of what it is to become a person of real character.

I am far less patient, forgiving or willing to give the time of day to someone who is an adult, knows better and continues to exhibit shitty behavior, repeatedly over time.

In general the “I have the maturity of an adolescent” or “I have issues” excuse wears thin by the time someone is in their 30s – especially with all the resources available in modern western world.

In general, by that age, I believe people know enough to know better, and have the capacity to do better, in spite of temptation and in spite of how hard it may be to do the work necessary to do it right.

The 28 year old who made bad financial decisions, blew through his money and cost his family I can find easily forgivable. The 45 year old who continues to gamble away his family’s money, I have a much harder time forgiving, believing and trusting. 

I can give dozens more examples…

So I watched part of Lance Armstrong’s interview and not only felt no pity, I felt irritated.

I don’t care that he cheated in a sport where every one seems to cheat. Had he done so, gotten caught and dealt with the consequences, who cares? I don’t think of bike riders as heroes. 


I do care that he spent many years dragging a whole lot of innocent, decent people through the coals to cover up his lies and protect his image. The financial, emotional and personal toll his actions caused these people is reprehensible, even unconscionable. He is a full fledged adult who did this at a stage of his life when he knew better, was capable of better and did it anyway.

Sure there will always be the considerations of what kinds of psychological issues led him to behave this way… and yet I still come to the same conclusion: the extent of this scandal he’s created is beyond justification.

If he finds a way to make things right in spite of everything he has done, no matter how long it takes and what the price, then he still has the possibility to die a winner.

It seems that is what he wanted to be – a winner who triumphed against all odds.

Now he has his chance. 

2 Responses to "Assessing Character"

  1. Well said Jeff. Thank you for a well written summary of my thoughts as well.

    Be well,

  2. I found myself articulating very similar thoughts this weekend. Beyond the fact that he was an adult and capable of making better decisions and did not; he was the leader and I would suggest he had the responsibility to make better decisions and did not. The scope and actions that he took to perpetuate this is fraud breath-taking.
    Thanks for stating it so well.

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