Lance Armstrong: The Truth About (Some) Powerful Personalities

Donald Miller

This week I’ve been following the news about Lance Armstrong. And I think the whole episode speaks to something greater about the human condition. I’m not talking about our tendency to cheat or lie,  I’m talking about our tendency to think people are a little better than they are.

*Photo by Patrick Storm, Creative Commons
Many of our heroes have corporations who’ve allotted massive budgets to promote their image, but anybody who buys into that image themselves might develop a bit of a personality disorder. Narcissistic personalities love power, both to do good and to do wrong. One of the reasons people fell for Hitler’s schemes was because, early on, he championed the poor and the working class. People loved Che Guvera and Fidel Castro for the same reasons. But each of those personalities did more evil than good.

How could a person raise millions for cancer but cheat in the Tour de France and lie about it for years? Well, both pursuits made him feel powerful. The ambitions are quite consistent. One was power for good, the other was power for bad, but it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the feeling of having dominance and having impact.

I know a prominent pastor who reminds me of Lance. He’s burned an untold number of bridges, has numerous former friends who do not speak well of him, has a history of exaggerating his accomplishments and covers his missteps with a publicist and several graphic artists who promote him and his church on the internet. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said something publicly that I know personally to be not quite true. He sells lots of books and rarely goes more than a few months without becoming the center of attention. To say his desire is for self-glory or power wouldn’t be accurate, though. His motives, like our own, are mixed. We are good and bad and shades of each.

Sadly, this pastor has a horde of former friends who are compiling lists of his misdeeds. The scene reminds me of Lance and his former teammates. And yet, this same person is capable of an amazing amount of good. He preaches the gospel, feeds the poor and speaks “Truth” to his followers who hang on his every word. Consistent with the powerful personality, he loves to take the weak under his wing but will submit to nobody himself.

When we divide people into good or bad categories, we are rarely accurate. Human personalities are more complicated than that.

There’s really nothing wrong with power. Power is a tool. But it takes a certain kind of personality to become powerful. To be pointed, it takes the kind of personality who loves power. We tend to get what we aspire for. Power is rarely accidentally attained.

But power isn’t something God wants us to pursue. Scripture tells us to live a quiet life. Even Jesus mysteriously says He doesn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. There’s a humility and even an anonymity about our faith that is quite appealing. Each of us is to try to get lower in stature than the other, to be lesser than, not greater than.

Let’s not be disillusioned by our supposed heroes. They’re just people like us. Only, well, more powerful. Let’s call them back to the fold of the human with everybody else in their mingling of good and bad, and, of course, in need of redemption.

In light of all this, I’m curious as to what you think an actual hero is? What are the real traits of a real hero?

-Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.