The tragedy of Oscar Pistorius

On 27 June 2013, the following statement was posted on the official website of Oscar Pistorius:

‘Oscar has decided to resume a low-key track routine. Oscar is not contemplating a formal return to athletics and his training is not aimed at preparing for competition.

His focus at this time remains entirely on the court case. His family, and those close to him, have encouraged him to spend a few hours a week on the track to assist him in finding the necessary mental and emotional equilibrium to process his trauma and prepare for the trial’.

In a television interview, I was asked to comment on whether Oscar Pistorius’ return to training would actually be able to help him prepare mentally for the upcoming legal battle in his trial of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. As I pondered the question being posed, I couldn’t get away from a more fundamental question of whether this tragedy could ever have been prevented?

What are the processes that unfold before a tragic event that suggest that a crisis is eventually going to erupt? How could a national icon, a hero to all, an example for those who are disadvantaged, an inspiration to those who have to overcome obstacles; find himself in this dark hole?

There may have been a number of warning signs that were not listened to; the boat accident into the pier (with signs of alcohol abuse); the door slamming incident with a girl-friend; the gun shot at a restaurant; his obsession with guns; that may have suggested that not all was right on an emotional level with Oscar. On some level he may have been struggling with an anger/acting out issue that was starting to reveal itself.

As a national hero who was adored; an athlete who had significant financial contracts and endorsements; feelings of omnipotence would have prevailed. While these feelings of power could be called on during competition, they needed to be managed in an appropriate way when functioning off the field of play. But because of the media and public worship, ethical boundaries can get blurred and sometimes crossed as a process of ‘wanting more’ and ‘self-centered demands’ are pushed further and further.

Because of their dominance and ability to win on the sports field; sporting heroes may never question their own intentions and behaviours in their everyday living. Because of always getting what they want (initially on the field of play); they usually expect (and get) this off-the-field as well. There is a power/dominance imbalance in their relationships with others. In this imbalance, the sporting hero usually feels and believes that he should win. When things go wrong with others, they never consider the perspective of an aggrieved party.

Fallen sporting heroes such as Lance Armstrong (illegal performance enhancing drugs), Hansie Cronje (bribery and match fixing), Tiger Woods (inappropriate sexual activity) may have found it impossible to put an internal brake on their desires and demands. The ability to acknowledge possible inadequacies and then to request psychological help are almost impossible for a sporting hero to do. They would resist any assistance that may be offered since accepting help would mean that they may be considered a failure. A sporting hero would never allow this to occur (since it may result in him believing that he will lose face). Instead he always has to present a mask of competency to others – with a strong, confident message to the outside world that ‘nothing is wrong with me’.

As time goes on, however, more and more boundaries may get transgressed. An accumulation of conflictual and destructive incidents start mounting. The unfolding destructive process starts gaining momentum as a run-away gets set into motion. Only crisis will eventually put a stop to the process – since a self-destructive implosion will occur. Crisis is nature’s way to halt an unhealthy process and to offer the opportunity to re-balance a system in a healthy way.

During my television interview, I was saddened at the tragedy that surrounded Oscar Pistorius. My sadness deepened when I realized that it may not have been possible to prevent the tragedy from occurring; especially when one considers the intra/interpersonal dynamics of public worship and the inner feelings of omnipotence that are at play in the lives of a sporting hero.

A belief that a tragedy could have been averted relies totally on a retrospect examination of the past events that come to the fore only once the tragedy has become a reality. This is the paradox – a system that is on a run-away usually doesn’t accept or believe that this is the case until the crash. I wish that it could be different, but the stories of the Greek tragedies, Shakespearean plays and considering all of the past destructive tragic human events that have occurred over time, suggest that human beings are not well equipped to notice their own internal run-aways before it is too late.

Guiding light
Guiding light


5 thoughts on “The tragedy of Oscar Pistorius

  1. Mary

    I totally agree with your article Ken. Its such a pity that money = power = entitlement= untouchable.
    I hope justice will prevail but I remain a skeptic!

  2. Lutz Otto

    Ken, as is so true to you, this is another wonderful insightful piece of writing.

    The Oscar story is very tragic. It is my view that this same core thread permeates through our society and until society, and we as individuals, have the courage to decide to “realign our behaviours, actions and thoughts” these terrible and massively destructive events will continue. The messages within your article are absolutely relevant to broader society and I would guess in particular to politics’, the arts, business and large corporates. The media and clever PR further fuel these “states of being” through associated hype and clever manipulation. “Hero worship” or “hero destruction” in whatever form is an unhealthy obsession by all stakeholders and parties yet it is remains a core in the selling of media, general discussion and societal role modelling. Very little is spoken of “balanced success” whilst “slice success” [which is very often not balanced success] is the picture that is presented [seen and modelled].

    I believe that as parents, teachers, leaders and mentors we have a particularly important part to play to ensure that those under our influence:
     come to feel [and know] that they “are enough” [without living up to the expectations of others or spending their lives feeling inadequate in who they are and their achievements],
     that it is normal to “have good days and also bad days”,
     that greed is a never satiable desire,
     that competition is good but it can become bad,
     that the authentic self is the best self to be [rather than behave like this or that],
     that there are very few shortcuts [hard work is a necessary part of the process]
     and that fudging truths to reach results [whatever these might be] invariable catches up with you

    Thank you for sharing your wise words Ken! It is great to see you writing again … I have missed your articles!

    Have a great day,

  3. Jana

    Dear Ken,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Makes one look at all aspects of life from different perspectives. Have a good day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s