Narcissus in Greek mythology was the son of a god named Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope. He’ll forever be known as one who, upon gazing at his own reflection in a pool, was so enamored with it that he refused to leave that place and died there. I recall this myth because we live in a time where we’re actively encouraging the creation of one Narcissus after another. Enter Alex Rodriguez from stage left.

I have sympathy for this wounded soul. In another culture, one that didn’t encourage, even demand, his creation, he may have had the opportunity to show his amazing athletic skill without the ceaseless pressure of the larger culture. I’m not saying he isn’t to blame for his actions. Clearly he chose to cheat. I’m merely saying we as a society have a share in creating what’s become the Alex Rodriguez we now see in all his shame.

From the beginning of his professional career, he was put on a pedestal and told he was entitled to everything he could get because of his baseball prowess. When he became a free agent in 2001 (the same year we were told to “go shopping” rather than sacrifice for the common good), teams were falling all over themselves to bid for his services. The Texas Rangers signed him to a $252 million, 10-year contract. Baseball’s free market was telling him he was worth that much. This channels the old Mac Davis song: “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cos I get better looking each day, to know me is to love me I must be a hell of a man. O Lord it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.”

While not a psychologist, I would think that someone like Mr. Rodriguez, upon being told his baseball acumen was worth $252 million would find that anxiety-producing. How could he possibly prove every day that he was worth that much? The “law” (in the Pauline sense) crashed down on him. Could he ever be good enough (perfect?) to justify such compensation? The performance enhancing drugs were his solution.

Some have classified Mr. Rodriguez’ story as a “fall from grace.” But that assumes he was ever “in grace.” From what I know of his life, it’s been a relentless pursuit to prove to others he was worthwhile, deserving of adoration, and the best baseball player ever. So, rather than a fall from grace, I see his life as a predictable capitulation to the demands of our cultural “law” (again, in the Pauline sense) where he (and we) will always come up short. The twin drivers in Mr. Rodriguez’ life were the internal fear that he’d never be good enough and the external demand from a voracious public that he prove he was worth his contract. Those two combined to produce a predictable outcome.

How much wealth, celebrity, and status are enough? For those living by the “law” and not grace, there’s never enough. Thus, we see income disparity widening because the wealthy can never seem to have enough and constant campaign dollars being sought because politicians can also never seem to have enough. Alex Rodriguez merely reflects back to us in our own Narcissus pool the world we’ve created for ourselves. The “law” that tells us we will never have/be enough is simply killing us. Only grace can save us.



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