Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When Those We Admire Fall Short

There are people who achieve greatness, like Tiger Woods, who inspire our admiration. This is natural, considering the work and discipline it took to get where they are. It is natural, also, to assume that they are not only able in their area of expertise, but also capable of integrity and character.

So it is a shock to us all when Tiger Woods gets caught up in something silly this past week, and is obviously lying about it.

But does it follow that greatness in one area means greatness in all? I think of what I've learned from other greats, and I wonder. Perhaps for some, after achieving strengths in one field, they are either incapable or don't bother to be good at everything. Consider the diaper toting astronaut, Lisa Nowak, who resorted to extremes to try and get her lover back. Her calculation and intensity of purpose reminds me, chillingly, of the intensity required to be successful in her chosen career.

Then there's Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch. I'd always admired the man before that. Heck, I just admired looking at him. But his ignorant spurtings around that time, like his comments about Brooke Shields did it for me. He is no longer attractive. Looking back at his body of work, I wondered if I confused attractiveness and luck with achievement. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to hire a fantastic publicist.

Anecdotes about other greats have surprised me. The public persona of Bill Cosby as the lovable Dr. Huxtable, and his obvious comic genius is undenied. Comics by profession understand human nature. Great comics understand us greatly. How could someone with that degree of understanding, fail to be great in all areas? Yet I hear on set he can be remote and dismissive of newcomers. I wonder sometimes if my premise is flawed. That even for comic greats like Mr. Cosby, his achievement in one area does not necessarily follow in all others.

Heck, I have been accused of not listening, not caring. I know it comes from my analytic nature, which I resort to in times of stress. Approach me when I am in that state, and I will tell you exactly what I think. Or I might fall silent in deep reflection. When I am in that state, you might as well be wallpaper. I am not being dismissive or mean; this is just part of who I am. When I come out of that state, I may be fully engaged again. For those who don't know me well, might they assume that I am faking my interest?

As a postscript, Albert Schweitzer is on my list of heroes of all time. I hear that starry-eyed visitors were given short shrift if they didn't follow his instructions. Tourists suffering heat stroke were a distraction. Again, I suspect the visitors wrongly assumed that this man's generosity flowed in all directions. His achievement, I am guessing, was rather a result of his intensity of purpose than depth of his warm and fuzzies.