By the time he was 12 he knew he wanted to be the leader of his country. He loved stories of great figures of the past. He loved how others spoke of them.
When there was some big day at school and the teachers needed help, he would volunteer. Soon, the teachers asked him first. He liked being singled out. He liked to be part of things that were important. When the hours in preparation stretched longer and his friends were looking to go home, he never gave that a thought. His teachers noticed. He was the hard worker; the responsible one; the leader. He was going places.
In class, when talk turned to the country, the government, some event in the world, his classmates turned to him before the teacher did. Ask him. He’ll know. He liked other things that others liked – music, sports – but not in a way that anyone noticed. He never felt trapped in being “the political guy”. It’s how he saw himself, and how he wanted to be seen and to see. He liked being good at something. He liked being a star.
When he was old enough to join political groups – sometimes even before – he joined. Amidst others who had chosen and been chosen by politics, it was now harder to stand out. He had to work with them to do what he wanted to do, and sometimes had to work against them. It took more to be “the political guy”. At times, he had to face the choice of doing something that didn’t seem quite right, to achieve what he wanted to achieve, to be what he wanted to be, or not to do it and live with the consequences. It took more to be a star.
He rose higher. He had more choices to make. It took even more to be a star. He had big, important things to do. He had to be focused on and driven by them. He also had to be focused on and driven by how to achieve them. Anyone who stood in the way stood in the way of achieving those big, important goals, and him. He played the game the way it was played, however it was played, just as he always had, the way it had to be played, to win. In some countries, that would take money; in some, destroying those around him; in some, physical violence. Everywhere, it took more each year. And if you play the game, he believed, you might as well win it. He was not trapped in being “the political guy.” If anything, he was trapped in being a star. The great figures of the past had won. He would win too.
Imagine if Lance Armstrong’s game was politics, not sports.
I’ve never been in a situation where in doing something I love and something I was good at, that had became inseparable from my life and how I saw myself and how others saw me, that to take the next step, to be as good as – to be better – than everyone else, I had to cheat.
I’ve never been in a situation where I had every reason to believe that my opponent was cheating, and no reason to believe he wasn’t. Or in a situation where in cheating my opponent had every chance to win, and in not cheating I had no chance to win.
Having gone through countless competitions, I had learned to live by the “feeling” rule. I know what it feels like to win. I know what it feels like to lose. I know what it feels like to win easily, untested and unchallenged, through unearned luck, or when somehow my opponent is cheated. I know what it feels like when I’m pushed and I find something in me I didn’t know was there, and win. I know how different that feeling is; how rare it is to feel it all. I learned I wanted to feel it all. I didn’t want to give up even a sliver of it to luck or ease or cheating. Some of this is ethics; some is self-interest.
I’m glad I didn’t have to face the choice.
I think I know what I would have done, but I don’t know. Lance Armstrong could have said no. But corruption corrupts.
Ken Dryden, a former Member of Parliament and an author, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played goal for the Montreal Canadiens from 1971 to 1979, and for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.