Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cut Tiger Some Slack: He's Not a Preacher or a Politician

Scratch a man or a woman and you’ll find a child.

~common saying

Most would agree that when Tiger gave his 13 minute “forgive me” speech on February 19, 2010, he looked haggard and nervous, his emotions close to the surface. The commentary afterwards ranged from understanding to downright nasty: empathetic versus unforgiving. In the unfolding Tiger story, we are all actors struggling with “learning to become more conscious, competent human beings”. We’re not in the habit of cutting our superstars much slack, often because we hold them to a higher standard than ourselves or an equal standard. The Tiger Woods of the world though are engaged in the same melodramatic journey of life as we are. It’s a perilous journey fraught with unexpected twists and turns that call our character into question frequently.

We don’t dispute Tiger’s competency. Groomed from the age of 2 or so to be the greatest golfer in all time, he’s well on the way. On the deeper “who am I?” human question. It appears not.

Think about it. Did he have much time to ponder his inner life beyond what it takes to put a little white ball into a hole in the middle of a “lawn” faster than competitors? Deep grooves there in his brain on that one. A bit mixed up on the more general: “What’s the right thing to do in life?”

Adults have a cognitive life cycle just as children do. Debate rages in academia about how to characterize the evolution of an adult mind, in general. For simplicity’s sake, Erik Erikson’s typology offers some insight into Tiger’s struggle.

Erikson poses three interconnected, evolutionary stages in adulthood each with its own identity and life satisfaction dilemmas:

Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young Adults, 20 to 34 years):

“Am I loved and wanted?” “Shall I share my life with someone or live alone?”

The challenge at this stage is to develop a mature sense of the meaning of love and how to love. How to form long-term commitments to others. How to be "in relationship" at work, in the community, with family, to contribute.

Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood, 35 to 65 years)

“Will I produce something of value?”

The virtue to be developed during this period is to “care”. To put energy into guiding the next generation, contributing to society.

Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (Seniors 65 years and onwards)

“Have I lived a full life?”

Starting with our 30s, the virtue to be fully developed by our "golden years" is deep self-understanding. Combined with contemplating accomplishments and looking back on the people in our lives, we have the opportunity to achieve great satisfaction with our efforts over many decades.

Applying Erikson’s view of adult development to Tiger, he’s still grappling with commitment. He’s only 34 years old!!

No excuse though for leading a double life. But, in the context of the bubble he grew up in and the fame and fortune that ensued, we can understand how he veered away from the ethical, healthy path. We recognize from his words that he’s learning how to accept help from others. He has activated a part of himself that likely has been under utilized: “life-reflection” in which he develops self-insight and a self-critical perspective. He’s just a newbie at this!

Although he wasn’t as smooth or emotionally demonstrative as a preacher or a politician typically is, Tiger made it clear that prior to the Thanksgiving 2009 incident that blew his cover, he was only thinking about himself. He was “at effect” of impulses. He was not thinking about the impact of his behaviour on his family, his golf buddies, young people who look up to him, his sponsors, etc. He was, in his mind, above the fray, “invisible” and was free to play by social rules different from the mainstream.

Tiger is now consciously trekking through a mind-jungle. When he clears a new path, he will be somewhere he’s never been before. He will see himself in the world differently. He will see others anew. It’s taxing. It’s painful. And, it is courageous.

Many adults don’t reflect enough. Consequently, their “geniuses within” never reach their full potential. For Tiger, this may not be the case. He’s working on it, probably as hard as he does his golf game.

Tiger asked us to look into our hearts and support him in his journey. Let’s do that especially if you are older than 35 years. It’s what we are supposed to do: care for the generations behind us. Support them to succeed because we should know: the only way to success is through failure.

Unless we recognize the extent to which our present is determined by our past, we make the same mistakes over and over again.

~Manfred Kets de Vries, Leader on the Couch.

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