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Let Who’s Never Erred Cast the First Stone

Last week in San Diego I had the privilege of introducing Lance Armstrong to Fitwall, which is a business that I helped launch two years ago centered around a terrific and revolutionary exercise product and program.  Lance and I have had a few connections in the past inasmuch as we share some mutual friendships, but we really didn’t know one another.  Like most people, I’ve admired Lance for quite some time.  His athletic accomplishments are legendary, of course, and they are much deeper and older than most people know.  My wife remembers a 15-year-old Lance showing up in Venezuela to compete in a significant triathlon there, where she was one of the top female competitors – and he won!  It turns out that Lance was a world-class triathlete before he turned his focus exclusively to cycling (and before there was any possible connection to performance enhancing drugs).  I also have a deep admiration for Lance’s will as was displayed by his personal fight with cancer.  Maybe most impressive, if you can say that, is his extraordinary commitment of his time and resources to inspire and help the lives of those with cancer.

There have always been whispers of pervasive use of performance enhancement drugs in most all sports, and especially at the highest levels.  Maybe of all sports, distance cycling, like the Tour de France, was generally believed by most who were close to it to be infested with drug usage, and it was generally understood by most close to the sport that it would be impossible to compete anymore without them.

We all know the recent tearing down of “Lance the American hero.”  Now, it seems that everyone has an opinion of the man, as though they know him, can empathize with his situation, understand what pressures he was facing and what choices he had.  Most everyone feels very comfortable being his judge and jury.  I’m not writing this piece to defend the man, although that would be tempting.  No, I write to ask the question of why it is human beings feel that they have a right to judge others.  I wonder where people find the time to even invest focusing on the lives of strangers anyway.  I mean, isn’t one’s own life plenty demanding of our attention?

The day after Lance’s workout on Fitwall he Tweeted about it and included a picture with the others that participated in the class with him.  He has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, and I (incorrectly) assumed that if someone chose to “follow” someone on Twitter it was because they had favorable sentiments for that individual.  I was amazed to read some of the responses to his Twitter postings, which were laced with vitriol.  Who, I wondered were these “Inspector Javert’s” who found the time and decided to invest their energies in hounding Lance with short bursts of hate and insinuations?  How truly pathetic!  What about Lance, I wondered, elicits such venom?  Even Ray Rice, the football player who punched his girlfriend in the face knocking her out cold, captured on a hotel elevator for everyone in the world to see, has not elicited such hatred.  I’ll leave that for all of you to ponder, however, I’d hazard to say that it is because Lance made us feel bad about ourselves.  He never quit, even when faced with a cancer death sentence.  We mostly quit in our lives.  He gave of himself generously and expended so much of his energy helping and inspiring others, without any personal gain.  We rarely do this, instead mired in our own lives and travails.  On the one hand, we found Lance to be so damn great and inspiring and he made us dream that we can all be better.  On the other hand, he also reminded us of our failings, our laziness, our selfishness, and our weakness.  When the door opening came to pile on and condemn him too many of us have jumped at that opportunity.

This past weekend was the Jewish Holy Day called Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement.  Jews are taught that God judges us by our deeds and words, and this day is our great opportunity to review our year in our hearts, admit to our failings, aim to be better in the coming year, and pray that God judges us with mercy and forgiveness.  As I meditated in prayer, I focused on our human tendencies to judge others harshly and to cast stones, remembering the teaching of that great Jewish scholar Jesus who is credited with teaching his followers that only those without sin have earned the right to judge.  I am sure I’ve judged others in my life, and in this past year too.  I hope to be better in the coming year and will re-dedicate myself to that.

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