Sunday, September 13, 2009

Susan Boyle and Bernard Madoff: Equal Energy, Two Directions

Bernard Madoff slides from his self-created pedestal of exclusivity and respect into a miasma of lies when his life's work is exposed as common fraud.

Susan Boyle ascends to the stars as her natural talent rides the wave of personal courage and brings her gift into the hearts of people around the world.

These two individuals provide a perfect object lesson for something I've always suspected: it takes just as much energy to do what Bernard Madoff did as it takes to do what Susan Boyle did. Why, why, why, then, would a person use a limited individual allotment of this precious energy to suck the life from others when there is an equal opportunity to enhance the world and leave it a better place with the same amount of effort?

It is fiction to say that it is easier to cheat than it is to work hard. Cheating takes an enormous toll on an individual's mental, spiritual and emotional life: keeping track of frauds, which lies were told to whom, who knows what about what… Can you imagine the anger and stress that has been seething just below the surface for Bernard Madoff all these years? These corrosive feelings are emotions he could never embrace, nor show to anyone, nor discuss with anyone, not even his wife (if she is to be believed).

People have called Bernard Madoff a sociopath, but even a so-called sociopath might squirm when regulating agencies continually knock on the door with long lists of increasingly pointed questions; even a sociopath can suspect there might be a crack somewhere in his facade, a crack he needs to locate and repair fast. Sociopathy is no free ride. Thinking of oneself as smarter than everyone else can only work until you're caught, and as imprisoned criminals have repeatedly attested, they knew that day would come.

I don't even like typing all these ugly words. But they serve a purpose and form the dark background against which Susan Boyle's presence gleams.

Like Bernard Madoff, Susan, too, came out of obscurity. But here's the key difference: his mind was set on No fair! I want what everyone else has! At one point in his life, he could have decided to apply himself and work hard to make something of himself, but his overriding envy rotted his heart. He diverted his energy from creating something good toward destroying what everyone else had. And he probably worked every bit as hard as he would have had he lived honestly, in which case he would not now be rotting in prison.

Susan Boyle, on the other hand, had a gift which she nurtured on her own, and never let fall away. How many of us can say the same about the great promise we once showed playing the piano? or painting? or singing? Most of us have turned our backs on these pursuits in the manner of putting away the things of childhood.

But Susan Boyle persevered. She lived a quiet life, always singing, and made a promise to her dying mother: I won't give up. I'll stay with it.

Then she mounted what must sometimes have felt like an impossible campaign of personal courage, not only to her but to others. She was no doubt accused along the way of having pipe dreams, of reaching beyond her station, of thinking she was all that--and why? Because she dared to put one foot in front of the other, over and over, until she walked right into the spotlight that made her an overnight success in the eyes of the world.

Susan Boyle isn't an overnight success in her own estimation, though. She has been applying herself to her gift for her entire life. She was born with a talent for singing, and she honored her gift and continues to honor it, and look at the treasure she has brought into the world: her voice and her story delight the souls of everyone who encounters her.

Light and darkness; good and evil. Conversations don't get much more basic than this, and examples are seldom more clear than they are in the cases of Susan Boyle and Bernard Madoff. Fortunately for the world, Madoff will be no more than a footnote in the journals of sleazy financial crime. All the hearts he broke will find no sense of justice in whatever happens to him, but at least he won't be doing anything to anyone else.

On the very bright other side, Susan Boyle's light will shine for a long, long time. Even the souls bruised by Bernard Madoff can take delight in the gifts of Susan Boyle.

In this way, it can be seen that good outweighs the bad, just as we've always been taught to believe but have perhaps come to doubt over the years. The same equation holds true with tiny, anonymous acts of kindness in our own lives today.

I know this is true.

Photography: Susan Boyle, Perez Hilton; Rose bush, Fastily, 4/26/09; Rose,

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