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Friday morning the news was filled with stories about Lance Armstrong deciding not to pursue his legal battles with regard to doping allegations. It is interesting to me that many assume his withdrawal from the fray is evidence of guilt.

First, let me say, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another about his innocence or guilt. I do have a strong opinion regarding the assumption that if one chooses not to fight a battle it is construed as an admission of guilt.

In my practice, I see people who make difficult choices all the time- to give a child up for adoption, to leave a marriage, to put a spouse suffering from dementia in a nursing home. All of these people can be judged for their decisions and accused of giving up the “fight”. Do you have the right to indict? I think not. Looking in from the outside, we all become critics and while it easy to assume or interpret another’s actions; we clearly do not know what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes.

Lance Armstrong said the toll that battle has taken on his family, his foundation and on himself is not worth the fight. While one could argue that “to clear one’s name” is everything, would anyone of us, had we survived cancer, be so quick to take on the aggravation of a litigious, lengthy court battle knowing that stress can compromise the immune system? Is your “good name” worth more than your good health?

In this sense, I applaud Lance Armstrong for making, regardless of guilt or innocence, what had to be a difficult decision. He is stripped of his titles and banned from the sport. He had to know a media frenzy of condemnation would follow. He also knew his choice might be seen as an admission of wrongdoing. I think that takes guts.

When faced with a decision that we know will bring a firestorm of controversy, we struggle with our desire for approval versus knowing what is right for us. Many of us have had to do “give up”; the woman who chooses to sever a relationship with her abusive mother, the reluctant man who gives his beloved dog over to a shelter because he cannot afford to take care of it, the spouse who files for divorce even when it goes against his/her religious teachings.  People who go on welfare, lose their home or file bankruptcy face these feelings of shame and guilt brought on by those folks who find it so easy to stand outside and judge their decisions.

If we can learn anything from this situation with Lance Armstrong, it is probably to reflect on our own reactions. What assumptions did you make? Do you equate his walking away with an admission of guilt? One article I read said, regardless of all the good Armstrong did to raise money for cancer, we have to admit it “was built on a lie.” Because he chose not to fight he is a liar? Really? Is the decision “not to fight” proof that one is guilty? We have no right to link those to separate issues together. We would be crushed if someone judged us the same way.

 “Not knowing” makes us uncomfortable; we like answers. With answers we get resolution; it feels “tidy.” Unanswered questions leave dangling threads of confusion. So, sometimes we make assumptions because reaching a conclusion, even an inaccurate one, can feel like resolution. But life is not so tidy and more often than we would like, it is very messy.

Lance Armstrong’s situation gives us each an opportunity to pause, examine our own responses- the assumptions and the judgments- and to consciously assess, not Armstrong’s character, but on our own.

 

© 2012 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

 

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6 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 26. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    I had quite an animated discussion about this topic with Donna yesterday. And, having been one of those folks who immediately judged Armstrong guilty, i was left with more than a glimmer of doubt. What Donna says is so on target – we all need definitive answers; absolute endings; and all too often that leads us to rush to judgment – often arriving at the wrong conclusion. Let me end by giving you this link to Armstrong’s statement:http://lancearmstrong.com/news-events/lance-armstongs-statement-of-august-23-2012. I am no long quite so sure. And that is just fine.

    • Donna Ferber on the 26. Aug, 2012 remarked #

      Thanks for the inspiration to write about this issue!

  2. bob on the 27. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    should they though? If a criminal doesn’t contest the charges against them it isn’t then up to the courts to prove they were guilty – someone is innocent until proven guilty yes but if they don’t contest that then the courts don’t present the evidence to prove the guilt – they just act accordingly. It is one thing to say “I am innocent, you need to prove that I am guilty, present the evidence you have and I will fight it,” it is quite another to say “I am innocent, but ok, I will accept that you are going to strip me of my titles, ban me from cycling for life and destroy my entire reputation.” That just doesn’t add up.

  3. Anonymous on the 27. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    Good points to ponder. Rightly or wrongly accused, Lance Armstrong is displaying courage to declare, “It’s just not worth it.” Don’t we all have areas of our lives where we would be better off admitting, “It’s just not worth it,” no matter what others may think about our withdrawal?

  4. George on the 27. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    With regard to the parallels to criminal charges – the evidence against Lance has always been based upon hearsay, highly dubious eyewitness accounts and now ‘evidence that is consistent with.’ As a prosecuter, take that into court and see how far you get. There has never been any credible factual evidence against him.

  5. mercadee on the 31. Aug, 2012 remarked #

    should they though? If a criminal doesn’t contest the charges against them it isn’t then up to the courts to prove they were guilty – someone is innocent until proven guilty yes but if they don’t contest that then the courts don’t present the evidence to prove the guilt – they just act accordingly. It is one thing to say “I am innocent, you need to prove that I am guilty, present the evidence you have and I will fight it,” it is quite another to say “I am innocent, but ok, I will accept that you are going to strip me of my titles, ban me from cycling for life and destroy my entire reputation.” That just doesn’t add up.

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