Thursday, April 08, 2010

The New Tiger as Anti-Hero: The Fall of a Superman, the Rise of a Human

Virtue is not a necessary qualification for heroic status,

---Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Heroes: Saviors, Traitors and Supermen

George Bernard Shaw warned us long ago to “beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman”. His rationale: “It leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human”. Are we now in danger of vilifying Tiger Woods because he is only “human”? Or, are we ready to see a different kind of hero emerge, not in our eyes but in his?

Tiger’s fall has shaken the equilibrium of golf, the industry as a whole, the players within, the sponsors and anyone else with a stake in the business. When once we admired Tiger’s confidence and mastery at a game that drives most people to distraction, we now have to re-evaluate our “hero”. Yesterday’s metrics don’t apply.

The history of heroism is replete with scoundrels and truly good people who have risked life and limb to advance society. For both, their extraordinary gifts often raise their level of moral peril because of the bubble in which they live. As Aristotle once wrote, “There is no law which embraces men of that caliber. They are themselves the law”. Heroes must call on their moral instinct. Unfortunately in Tiger’s case it failed him.

When asked by a reporter in his first news conference since his demise in November 2009 and before the 2010 Masters if he really knew what he was doing, Tiger professed he did not. He was duping himself and duping everyone else. How could that be so?

In Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Mark Hauser, professor of Psychology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, argues that we have evolved a moral instinct. It is more like growing a limb than being told by government or a religious institution or our parents what to do. It is a universal moral grammar that grows within each child to make rapid judgments about what is morally right or wrong: not to kill, lie, steal or break promises. It is instinctive, innate and unconscious.

In Professor Hauser’s view, “the role of experience is to instruct the innate system, pruning the range of possible moral systems down to one distinctive moral signature”. So it is for Tiger, although painful, that he has done some pruning in recent months to reveal more clearly to himself what he stands for and how he wants to conduct his life.

Tiger now is conscious about his moral signature. He has awakened from a not knowing place. He speaks of returning to his Buddhist roots which quite likely have far greater meaning for him now. As someone who has practiced tens of thousands of hours mastering golf, he has only begun the practice of a new moral signature.

The famous physicist David Bohm viewed health and wholeness as one and the same. He also acknowledged that the journey to wholeness is not easy: “Man has sensed that wholeness of integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living. Yet, over the ages, he has generally lived in fragmentation”.

Tiger has had two selves. He is working on one. No superman anymore. But truly more Human.