Tiger Woods recently announced that he and his longtime caddie Steve Williams parted ways. Williams’ departure is simply the latest in the stream of friends, family members and corporate partners who have left in the wake of Woods’ stunning infidelity and self-centeredness (see the graphic below — click for supersized version).
What led to this colossal personal, professional and financial collapse? For Woods, it was his gradual but consistent choice to abandon the values he had been taught. At a February 2010 press conference, Woods said:
I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.
I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife’s family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me.
I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.
A colleague of mine worked closely with Woods and his parents during Tiger’s teenage years. His description of the Woods family mirrors Tiger’s comments. Woods was raised with solid values.
Woods also lives in a world that includes many unique elements most of us can never fully understand: unmatched talent and drive in a given field; fame and scrutiny from an early age; massive piles of money; and near-universal adoration from fans and media alike. Even his competitors seemed taken with Tiger.
Given those realities of Tiger’s existence, who can say they would have acted much differently, especially if we, too, abandoned the values so critical to keep us grounded in such intoxicating surroundings? And therein lies an unbending reality: It is impossible to stay true to your wife, children and closest friends in the face of crushing wealth, fame and temptation if you throw away the protection of your principles. With no values to fight the pull and stay afloat, we will all be dragged under. Yet it is applied values that are so essential. Without consistent application and striving, no set of principles, from Buddhism to authentic conservatism, can save us from our unbridled selves.
Woods has lost many tangible things, such as family, friends and money, while not forgetting all the intangibles he has squandered: relationships, respect, trust, leadership, integrity, confidence, and his mental control. Regarding that last point, there have always been other more physically talented golfers, but Tiger had been without rival in the mental game. Now, having been so utterly exposed, he is clearly shaken.
How has he damaged his children? How has he hurt the kids in his charitable foundation, and believers and admirers young and old around the world? His personal losses are great on many levels, but the damage affects many outside his Jupiter Island compound. Remembering Tiger’s actions, are we now more cynical, more jaded, more pessimistic about relationships, heroes, fidelity and family?
In the end, Tiger’s tale is a cautionary one, useful to us if we will heed it. And the costs if we don’t? Hopefully we’ll never have to find out. As for Tiger, take a look at the graphic to see what his choices have cost him.