The Inevitable Legacy of Bad Choices

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking • For August 28 weekender, 2016


The Inevitable Legacy of Bad Choices

David W. Hegg

Recently, my wife and I escaped some of the August heat and headed north to the Pacific Northwest on vacation. Knowing Seattle weathermen always take their vacations in August, we knew the weather would be great, and it was.

I packed my golf clubs, along with more clothes and “stuff” than we would need for the road trip, and we headed north. One of our “stays” was at a resort with several nice golf courses, and I took full advantage of them. Hitting a little white ball, while viewing the snow-topped mountains of Central Oregon makes any vacation special, even when that little ball doesn’t cooperate.

During our time away the Ryan Lochte debacle made the news. Like all America, I wondered just how a star athlete, known for exhibiting great discipline and focus, could have created such a mess for himself. But as the story unfolded, it became clear. He made a horrible choice – to get drunk - and after relieving himself on the grass of a gas station, and vandalizing an advertising poster, he was left with only one good choice: to admit his culpability, accept responsibility and the inevitable humiliation that came with it, and deal with his shortcomings with some measure of integrity.

But his pride took over. Thinking he could solve the whole situation with one giant lie, he made the whopper of all bad choices and filed what appears to be a false police report. As of today, he may be facing trial and possible incarceration in a Brazilian jail, all because he refused to understand the inevitable legacy of bad choices.

In golf the same thing often happens, although it only makes a mess of the scorecard, not a life. Let’s say I hit my tee shot into the woods on the right side of the fairway. That’s a very bad mistake, and it leaves me with two choices. The only good choice is to hit a short and safe shot back into the fairway even though it won’t advance my ball toward the hole at all. So, my male pride kicks in, and I decide to thread a shot though the matrix of trees in front of me. Somewhere in my brain there is a little man telling me my intentions are idiotic, but I silence him knowing if I can make the shot, everything will be fixed!

So, I line up the shot, and … sure enough, I hit a tree and the ball bounces back behind where I started, and I am faced with the same options. Take the safe, but humiliating shot, or pump up my pride once again.

Here’s the deal: In life one bad choice can leave you with the same set of options. Often the only good choice is hard and even humiliating. If Ryan Lochte, after acting childishly, had admitted his wrongdoing, and humbled himself in front of those he had wronged, the world would never have heard about the incident. If only he’d taken the safe shot!

But his pride overruled his wisdom, and he risked it all on a long shot. And it failed, miserably, publicly, and possibly illegally.  I can guarantee you, if given the chance to take a mulligan (that’s a “do over” in golf), he would have stopped after two drinks, used the restroom, left the poster intact, and today would still have all his sponsorships. His bad choices had an inevitable legacy of their own, and he was foolish enough not to see it.

There’s a moral to this story. First, never allow your common sense boundaries and inhibitions to be dissolved by anything including alcohol, peer pressure, and personal pride. Second, if you find yourself in a hole of your own making, the first rule is “stop digging!” Third, realize your integrity is among your most valuable possessions, and once lost is almost impossible to rebuild. Lastly, admit it what you’re wrong, find the help you need to make things right, and learn from your mistakes. And if you ever find yourself sliding down the hill of bad choices, just ask yourself: What did Ryan Lochte do? Then, do the opposite.