Tiger Woods Is Not an Image (and Neither Are We)

Tiger Woods is much in the news today, and not for his golf game. As just about everyone knows by now, on the heels of a strange auto accident outside his home, Woods has been accused of having numerous extramarital affairs with a list of women that seems to grow by the day. Woods’s image as a squeaky clean hero and role model has taken a huge hit. That is the topic of this piece. As I have read the many commentaries on this saga, I’ve been struck by how all of them focus on his image in one way or another. But what if, as A Course in Miracles claims, Tiger Woods (like the rest of us) is not an image at all?

I’m not normally one who keeps up with the celebrity gossip. I have no idea what Paris Hilton has done lately, and I’m completely ignorant of the latest exploits of Brangelina. But I’ve read a lot about the Tiger Woods affair (or affairs), because he’s someone I’ve followed with interest for a long time. While I don’t play golf, my father is an avid golfer. I grew up watching tournaments with him on television, and grew to appreciate the game. When Tiger came along, like everyone else who knows anything about golf, I was in awe. There has never been anyone like him; his skill, power, and mental focus on the course seem almost superhuman. And though I have no illusions about the perfection of public figures, especially athletes, he has always seemed to be a nice, decent guy, and a devoted family man.

So I was quite simply shocked when all of the allegations began to surface. It isn’t simply a matter of one “mistake,” but a pattern of womanizing that has been going on for some time. And it’s not just the women. There are also stories of him expecting restaurants to give him meals “because I’m Tiger Woods,” his links with a doctor known for supplying performance-enhancing drugs, and much more. The picture that has emerged is not pretty. And while we can’t know whether every individual rumor is true, clearly there is at least some truth to the allegations. Woods himself apologized for his “infidelity” on his website, and says he is taking an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf to “focus my attention on being a better father, husband, and person.”

This sudden and dramatic transformation of Tiger Woods from golden boy to pariah has led me to reflect on the whole issue of image. Woods spent many years crafting his clean-cut sports superhero image while apparently living a life behind the scenes that belied that image. Now that the mask has been pulled away and we see what’s underneath, I’ve been fascinated with how different commentators have reacted. While the reactions have been many and varied, addressing every conceivable angle, several categories have stood out for me.

First, there is the “Tiger is a dirty, rotten snake in the grass” camp. This reaction isn’t too difficult to figure out. Those in this camp are upset at both his private behavior and his duplicity in crafting such a heroic public image to cover up that behavior. If they could get to him, the angrier people in this camp are ready to castrate him and nail him to a cross.

But on the other side, there is the “Tiger is refreshingly human” camp. These people are actually glad that the façade has been removed, because now we see that the seemingly superhuman Tiger Woods is a fallible human being no different than the rest of us. I read a piece by Debbie Ford that, after alluding to the first view above (“shocked and appalled”), neatly summarizes this second view:

As yet another legend bites the dust by exposing his bad behavior, many of us are shocked and appalled while others are falling deeper into resignation about the imaginary faithful husband. And then for some others, there is a bit of glee. There are those who are just plain grateful that Tiger Woods isn’t the superhuman that he has been made out to be. For some, Tiger’s imperfections become a gigantic exhale of relief. Those who seek to find their happiness in the fantasy that one day they will become the perfect person can now see they are finally off the proverbial hook.

These people find it much easier to forgive Woods. After all, he’s only human. We all have our faults. Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Then there is the “How could Tiger fool us for so long?” camp. He couldn’t have done this all by himself: He needed both a media willing to market the myth and a public willing to buy it. New York Times columnist Frank Rich sees the Woods case as emblematic of a pervasive problem in American society today: the media’s willingness to create and the public’s willingness to accept deceptive images of everything from athletes to politicians to Middle Eastern wars. The powers that be generate sanitized storylines for public consumption, and the public is all too eager to lap them up.

Finally, there is the “What can Tiger do to save his brand?” camp. These are the image-consultant types who seemingly have no qualms about this whole image-making business. Now that Woods has fallen from grace, they are less concerned with the truth of who he is and more concerned (at least professionally) with how he can best do damage control to rehabilitate his image. For instance, an article by a man named Mike Bonifer (author of Gamechangers – Improvisation for Business in the Networked World) recommends that Woods should 1) admit his wrongdoing and apologize profusely, 2) make new sponsorship deals with up-and-coming small companies, 3) emphasize his multicultural ethnicity, 4) be a supporting player for a while, rather than the star, and 5) get better at something he’s bad at. Somehow, all of this is supposed to restore the luster of the Tiger brand.

There are, of course, many other angles commentators have focused on: the black angle, the feminist angle, the recovery angle, the anti-pornography angle — you name it. But what strikes me as a student of A Course in Miracles is that every commentator, bar none, is talking about an image of Tiger Woods. It doesn’t seem that way: It seems, in fact, that his public image has been dismantled and now we’re finally seeing the “real” Tiger Woods. But from the Course’s point of view, the image-making at work here goes far beyond Woods’s golden public image, the media’s creation of it, the public’s willing consumption of it, and image consultants’ plans to refurbish it. From a Course perspective, the “snake in the grass” is also an image. The “fallible human being” is also an image. The real Tiger Woods is nowhere in sight.

Why is this so? At the heart of it is the Course’s metaphysics. The Course claims that we are really Sons of God in Heaven, created by God and God alone. This, and only this, is our reality, a reality that can be apprehended only through the direct, unmediated awareness that the Course calls knowledge. But way back at the beginning, we made the original error of believing that we could create ourselves. This belief, we are told, “is implicit in the ‘self-concept,’ or the tendency of the self to make an image of itself” (T-3.VII.4:3).

Once we decided we could make our own self-images or self-concepts, we all became our own image consultants par excellence. We not only made an image of ourselves, but designed an entire universe to buttress that image. Even our physical eyes serve this purpose; as Workbook Lesson 15 tells us, their function “is not seeing. It is image making” (W-pI.15.1:5-6). Thus, virtually our entire worldly experience is an exercise in image making, in which we convince ourselves that we are not Sons of God, but rather ever-changing human beings in an ever-changing physical world.

As I’ve been thinking about the damage done to Tiger Woods’s image by his actions and the reaction to them, I’ve been reminded of Jesus’ comments to Bill Thetford about Bill’s self-image problems. Bill was always worried about his image. He blamed his parents for his poor self-image. He was afraid to teach because of the threat teaching posed to his self-image. He lived in constant fear that his fragile image would be compromised by the perceptions of those around him.

When Jesus addressed Bill about this, he emphasized a couple of basic points: Bill’s main problem was his very belief that he was an image, an image forever vulnerable to the misperceptions of others and himself. And the solution to this problem was for Bill to know who he really was: not an image at all, but a “totally benign” creation of God, completely invulnerable to anyone’s misperceptions. We see the emphasis on these points again and again in Jesus’ counsel to Bill as recorded in the Urtext. For example:

We have frequently commented on the absolute necessity of correcting all fallacious thinking which associates man in any way with his own Creation….[Man] has no image at all. The word “image” is always perception related, and is not a product of knowing.…The current emphasis on “changing your image” is a good description of the power of perception, but it implies that there is nothing to know.

No one can survive independently as long as he is willing to see himself through the eyes of others. This will always put him in a position where he must see himself in different lights.…As we have already said, you are not an image. If you side with image-makers, you are merely being idolatrous.

[Bill] has no justification whatever for perpetuating any image of himself at all. He is not an image. Whatever is true of him is wholly benign. It is essential that he know this about himself, but he cannot know it while he chooses to interpret himself as vulnerable enough to be hurt.

It is your duty to establish beyond doubt that you are totally unwilling to side with (identify with) anyone’s misperceptions of you, including your own.

Given how hard Tiger Woods has worked to craft a positive public image and how zealously he has tried to keep his actual life from public scrutiny, I’m guessing that he shares Bill’s fears. He too believes deep down that he is an image, and he must do everything he can to preserve this fragile image from harm. But who among us doesn’t share this belief? Most of us are not celebrities with a huge public following, but don’t we all work frantically to present a pleasing façade to the world? Don’t we all hope that this façade will avert people’s eyes from the “truth” about us, which isn’t quite as pleasing, to say the least? Aren’t we constantly siding with misperceptions of us, including our own?

What if, instead, we all followed Jesus’ guidance to Bill? What if we stopped interpreting ourselves as vulnerable enough to be hurt? What if we refused to see ourselves through the eyes of others? What if we refused to side with image makers, be they other people or ourselves? What if we regarded this as our duty? What if we became willing to realize that we are not images at all, that what is true about us is wholly benign? What if we became willing to know this about ourselves? And what if we were willing to also apply all of this to others as well? What if we made it our duty to not make images of them, to recognize that they are not images at all, to be willing to know that the truth about them too is wholly benign?

If we were to do all this, our entire world would be utterly transformed. We would realize that none of us is truly a snake in the grass, and none of us is truly a fallible human being (though we certainly make mistakes in this world). We would realize, as in the title of this piece, that Tiger Woods is not an image, and neither are we. We would realize that all of us are “wholly lovable and wholly loving” (T-1.III.2:3) creations of a wholly loving Father. This, not identifying with other people’s apparently fallible humanity, is the realization that is the basis for true forgiveness. What a glorious realization this would be!

How can we do this? A Course in Miracles shows us how. It does so mainly by teaching us how to attain true perception, the earthly reflection of the knowledge that we are all holy Sons of God and nothing else. But it also does this by providing practices intended to give us brief direct experiences of knowledge, which the Course calls revelation. I will conclude this piece with one of these practices. It is a practice in which we deeply relinquish our images, be they of Tiger Woods or anyone else, and leave an open space in our minds for the truth to dawn – a practice that is an example of what Robert calls Open Mind Meditation.

I encourage you to really follow the instructions given here in this passage from the Course’s Text, to really “let every image held of everyone be loosened from [your mind] and swept away,” and see if you can catch a glimpse of the truth beyond all images that sets us free:

Let us be still an instant, and forget all things we ever learned, all thoughts we had, and every preconception that we hold of what things mean and what their purpose is. Let us remember not our own ideas of what the world is for. We do not know. Let every image held of everyone be loosened from our minds and swept away.

Be innocent of judgment, unaware of any thoughts of evil or of good that ever crossed your mind of anyone. Now do you know him not. But you are free to learn of him, and learn of him anew.…Now is he free to live as you are free, because an ancient learning passed away, and left a place for truth to be reborn. (T-31.I.12:1-13:3, 5)

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
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