Tiger Woods’ statement was a model of repentance and contrition. He admitted he had a problem. He said that words alone would not solve it, that he requires, and is receiving counseling. He admitted that celebrity and money had given him a sense of entitlement and had corrupted him. He said he had behaved selfishly and irresponsibly. He accepted that being a public figure meant private responsibility and that he had to model good behavior for the youth. And he looked the entire time like he meant it. It was that rarest of things, a sincere and unconditional statement of contrition and responsibility from a public figure for cheating on his wife. And more than just talking about changing, he told us what he is doing in order to be a better man.
Compare it to the nauseating drivel of a guy like Mark Sanford, the misguided Governor of South Carolina, who told the media, after he was caught cheating, that his mistress was his soulmate, or to President Clinton, who never admitted that his womanizing was a deep-seated problem that required counseling, and you can begin to appreciate how difficult it was for Tiger Woods to confess that his own philandering stemmed from a problem of his soul.
Noone wants to admit needing help. We don’t want to confess to that level of dependency. If a man cheats on his wife, he usually sees it as an aberration, something he shouldn’t have done and something he’ll work on not repeating. But it’s not a manifestation of an inner brokenness. He doesn’t need any counseling. He just needs to recommit to an ethical life.
In truth, men don’t cheat because they’re liars and thieves. The vast majority of men who are unfaithful would never shoplift or steal a car. Rather, men cheat because, as Tiger Woods accepted, they have a problem. They are broken on the inside – they feel insecure and unimportant – and think that having women desire them will compensate. It’s the age-old lie that conquest, especially of a sexual nature, will bring personal validation. As Woods said, after all the money and fame he had earned he thought that normal rules didn’t apply to him. He was Caesar, which is another way of saying that even after all the fame and money he still was insatiable for more. All the accolades, all the fans, the beautiful wife, the adorable kids, still could not make him feel full. All the money still didn’t make him feel rich. He remained a black hole of endless consumption.
But this man is on the way to real amends, I believe, because he recognizes he has a problem. The Talmud says there are three essential steps to repentance. The first is to admit you have a problem. The second is to confess it verbally and take full responsibility. And the third is to undertake corrective, righteous action that will undo or make better the error.
By that count it’s time for America to admit it has a problem, because there is a little Tiger in all of us, a insatiable thirst that has gripped the American soul and that cannot be quenched, whatever the level of consumption.
I just published a book called “The Blessing of Enough.” It’s the one blessing America doesn’t have. Even after we collapsed our economy through rampant greed we still refuse to admit we had a collective problem. We still cannot not accept that it’s not normal to be the richest country in the world and still feel like we never, ever have enough.
Our Wall Street bankers earn millions. And even after they receive the most putrid press, exposing their avarice and insatiable lust for more and more cash, all funded by tax-payer dollars, they still can’t stop paying themselves billions more in bonuses. This is a sickness that the patient refuses to acknowledge.
The feeling that enough is never enough, the curse of insatiability, was something I tried to impress upon Michael Jackson. I saw him punishing himself constantly. When I asked him if he was proud of Thriller, which had sold approximately 50 millions albums, he told me, Yes, but not really, because he had a post-it note on his mirror in the bathroom that said 100 million. So that was the man whom Michael saw in the mirror, never enough, always having to succeed more.
I believe that if Michael had realized the corrosive effect that fame and money were having on his life – how it had isolated him from friends and family, how it had given him too a sense of entitlement to cross healthy boundaries, and how it had enhanced his fear of becoming obscure and forgotten, a pain he turned to prescription drug medication to numb – he would be alive today. And the fact that Tiger Woods is honest enough to admit that fame and money can be incredibly corrosive means his marriage and his character have a fighting chance of healing, surviving, and flourishing.
Money and fame can be real blessings. With the former you can cure poverty, with the latter you can highlight noble causes. Instead, they are curses in America today. For all our money, we are the most unhappy nation in the world, consuming three quarters of the earth’s anti-depressants. And for all our celebrity’s fame, they can’t seem to stay married or keep themselves out of rehab.
America, we have a problem. It’s time for a confession of our own.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s newest book, The Blessing of Enough, has just been published. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. www.shmuley.com