In August 2012, I had the opportunity to witness Lance Armstrong deliver a keynote address at the World Cancer Congress hosted in Montreal. His introduction was memorable:
My name is Lance Armstrong, I am a cancer survivor, I’m a father of 5, and yes, I won the Tour de France 7 times.
This was one of Armstrong’s last public appearances before he was stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles and his subsequent fall from grace.
During Armstrong’s keynote presentation—Survivorship: Changing the Way the World Fights Cancer—I was moved by his sincerity and the charitable work accomplished through the Livestrong Foundation.
Lance spoke passionately about his experience as a cancer survivor and noted how the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool for patients desperate for cancer information. When Lance was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, he scrambled to get information. He reminisced:
After I left the doctor’s office I was grabbing every pamphlet and flyer I could off the wall. You know what we did after that? We went to the bookstore—remember those things?
This is a far cry from the wealth of information we have today!
Lance Armstrong also spoke about the importance of survivorship. Cancer survivors are often left thinking, “I survived cancer. Now what?” They find themselves struggling to redefine “normal” and how to navigate towards a healthy, productive, empowered life after treatment; the Livestrong Foundation addresses this need through educational and support programs, such as Cancer Transitions.
While I firmly believe that Lance Armstrong must answer and be accountable for his lies and deception, I find mercy and forgiveness lacking from the numerous articles reporting his fall. To be honest, it’s difficult to reconcile the value Armstrong has added to the fight against cancer with the pain and hurt he has caused countless people.
As is often the case, I sought the Bible for wisdom regarding this subject matter. I was drawn to Proverbs 20:28 and read translations from the New International Version (NIV) and King James Version (KJV) to gain better insight.
28 Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure (NIV)
28 Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy (KJV)
Here I’m reminded that successful leadership is founded on love and mercy.
All too often, love and mercy are considered mutually exclusive. Love is sometimes described as a form of reward for good deeds, while mercy is usually issued with bucket loads of condemnation and judgment.
From Proverbs 20, we learn that strong, successful leadership requires a full understanding of merciful love and integrity. A meaningful legacy is a product of good long-lasting leadership centered on the principles of love, mercy, and truth.
Loving through disappointment, failure, pain, and defeat, while still showing mercy, cultivates a culture of honor and loyalty. Granted, this may be difficult to accomplish in situations like Armstrong’s where people feel deeply disappointed, wronged, bullied, and cheated. To this, wisdom responds:
20 Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.
To reiterate: Love and mercy form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on merciful love and integrity.