The media is wallowing in the Tiger Woods affair. The idea seems to be that he deserves special opprobrium because he seemed so good before. Schadenfreuden always take pleasure in anybody’s trouble, but it goes deeper than that. Many people seem almost to resent goodness as an affront to their own imperfections and they think they can pull themselves up by pulling others down.
One of their most effective tools of character destruction is setting an impossibly high standard. When nobody can reach the standard, the losers can say that we are all equal – equally craven.
Two types of standards are useless: stupidly low standards that include virtually everything and impossibly high standards that are almost impossible to attain. Mark Phelps is a better swimmer than I am, but if we make the test the ability to swim 50 yards in less than five minutes, we both equally qualified as swimmers. On the other hand, if we make the test the capacity to swim from California to Hawaii, we are both equally unqualified as swimmers.
It is fairly easy to identify and argue against absurdly low standards. It is harder to get at the absurdly high ones. Proponents can accuse you of being against excellence or not caring about improvement. The fact that nobody can achieve the standard just proves that we have a long way to go before we get where we should be. The challenge is that these arguments can be valid to improve motivation and performance. It is just that they are easily misused.
So we just have to recognize that everybody is a sinner; everybody makes mistakes; everybody should strive to do better and some do better than others, i.e. we are not all equally good or bad. I told the kids that saying you are sorry means you will not do it again. That means you have to do better and if you can do better it implies that not everything is the same. Just because we cannot achieve perfection doesn’t mean we have the option of slouching into decadence. Just because you cannot do everything doesn’t mean you have to do nothing.
I take no pleasure in Tiger Wood’s fall. It is none of my business. I do not have the “right to know” and neither do the hack-journalists covering the affair. The fact that another human is not perfect doesn’t absolve any of us of the responsibility to be better. It is a challenge we face every day and it is a challenge that nobody can face for us. We should be judged on how well we fight the good fight, aware that we will never achieve the ultimate success.
People who delight in the misfortunes of others are assholes, but I feel a bit sorry for them. How bad must your life be if your outlook can be brightened by someone else’s sorrow?