Manti Te’o and the importance of being earnest
If college football star Manti Te’o wasn’t a household name before, he certainly is now. On the off chance you aren’t familiar, Te’o, a Notre Dame Linebacker, is currently involved in a messy web of lies concerning his “girlfriend” who had supposedly passed away this fall. The tragic story involved his girlfriend and his grandmother passing within a day of each other, and concluded with Te’o leading Notre Dame to a big win over Michigan State the day of his girlfriend’s funeral. One of her dying wishes was for him to play on.
In the face of such devastation, society opened its arms and enveloped Te’o. We worshiped him. We practically cried for him as the tough, American cowboy played through such obvious pain. Then, rather suddenly, our hero fell off of his pedestal.
And fell far, for that matter. It was discovered his girlfriend had no funeral the day of his game, and that she hadn’t actually died. In fact, she had never existed at all. As far as Te’o is concerned, he is the victim of a cruel hoax. He maintains that his relationship with his girlfriend was exclusively online, and that he had never actually seen her before. I am not sure what I believe, but I do know the situation acts as a lesson for all of us on being honest with ourselves.
Sir Walter Scott once wrote, “What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.” While it is an appropriate quote for the Te’o situation, I find it just as applicable at the individual level.
If Te’o truly maintained this relationship with a fake, online personality for months on end, he had to have been actively dodging the truth. In the age of Skype and FaceTime, it would be supremely difficult (if not almost impossible) to avoid looking at the person you were in a committed relationship with. This brings us to an important notion, the idea that we can actively deceive ourselves- rather convincingly.
I have no doubt that many of us, in Te’o’s position, would come up with similar excuses for a relationship that we wanted to be real badly enough. In fact, we lie to ourselves all of the time already. We toss out declarations like, “It’s not my fault I am doing badly in this class- the professor doesn’t like me.” Or, “I can’t take that job; it will just be too much with my busy schedule.”
Sometimes our claims are entirely true, but often we are only building a nice little narrative to help cushion a less-than-ideal aspect of our life- like the fact that we are not currently employed.
There is nothing harder than being entirely transparent with ourselves. Honesty is a tough policy, but it remains the best one. Even actively searching for our personal truths is enough to set us free. I have a feeling that if Te’o had taken some time to be honest with himself about his relationship he would still be America’s golden boy today.