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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lessons from Hansie Cronje: Only the Truth can set you Free!



The truth, and only the truth, can set you free!


All of us make mistakes in Life. Sometimes we succumb to temptations. No one who has lived on this planet has led a mistake-free Life. The big and mighty are no exceptions. When an unknown or lesser-known person slips, his immediate circle of influence are the ones that try him or her, pass judgment, and/or forgive her or him. When a person with a larger-than-Life image makes a mistake, the world tries her or him.


When you are being tried by the opinion of others, when you make a mistake, some of that trial may be what you deserve. Obviously, you caused the conditions, with your adventurous streak, your lack of discretion, your plain foolishness or your guile, that led to your trial. But a good portion of your trial by people, either those in your circle of influence or general public, depending on who you are, may be based on their perceptions of the truth. In almost all such instances, when you have erred in judgment, and have wittingly or otherwise, ending up wronging someone, it is best to own up. Just confess to your transgression, whatever it may be, and tell the truth, the absolute truth, as you know it.


The truth may make the already bad situation worse. But it will set you free and give you the energy and the peace to face the situation.


In recent times in India, I have admired (with no comment on the nature of his deviant actions or their impact) how Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju has actually handled his fall from grace. People say he had no choice. Maybe they are right. But it requires great personal courage to own up a mistake, especially if you did it willfully, and be willing to face the consequences__whatever they may be.


Last night I watched a very unique and lesser-known movie called ‘Hansie’ which is based on the true story of celebrated and controversial South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje. The movie, made in 2008 by his brother Frans Cronje and directed by Regardt van den Bergh, tells the story of Hansie’s rise and fall powerfully. The synopsis on the DVD’s back cover and the movie’s Wiki Page have this to say:


"How do you start over once you have betrayed a nation's trust?" The news of Hansie Cronj√©'s involvement with Indian bookmakers and his resulting public confession rocked the international sporting community. An unprecedented rise to glory was followed by the most horrific fall. A tarnished hero fueled the nation's fury. Hansie, once South African cricket's golden boy, had been stripped of everything he had held dear: a glorious captaincy, the support of his former team mates and the respect of a nation. In its place the stinging rejection of cricket administrators and the humiliating dissection of his life on international television, made his retreat into depression inevitable. Hansie's bravest moment in finally confessing his involvement with bookies had suddenly become a tightening noose around his neck.”


To be sure, Hansie Cronje, at the peak of his stardom as independent, post-apartheid, South Africa’s most successful cricket captain, received money from bookmakers, in return for information. And when Indian police in April 2000 revealed his links, and those of other South African cricketers, with Indian bookmakers, Hansie came clean in front of the King Commission, constituted by the South African government and its Cricket Board, and confessed to his mistakes, accepted having been dishonest, but reiterated that he had “never thrown a match in return for the bookmakers’ payments” to him.


Hansie Cronje at the King Commission hearings (left) and the movie DVD (right)
The movie shows poignantly how a man, who speaks the truth, has to deal with its unimaginable, irreversible, repercussions. Hansie, played admirably by Frank Rautenbach, is dubbed a ‘criminal’ by a large section of the South African United Cricket Board, banished by the international cricket community and has to also deal with his own demons. He is consumed by enormous guilt, has fearful nightmares each time he tries to sleep and can’t even face himself in the mirror. His wife Bertha, played beautifully by Sarah Thomson, and his family are his only support. But he grieves endlessly that he has let them down to. The shame, the remorse, the fall from personal grace is both palpable, as the story unfolds, and wrecks Hansie personally.


Then goaded by Bertha, Hanise goes to meet his mentor on the Cricket Board, Peter (I am unable to presently recollect his full name or find it online). Peter receives him with open arms.


A still devastated, even 18 months after his public confession, Hansie, who is a devout Christian, breaks down on seeing Peter and asks him: “Will God ever forgive me?”


Peter’s remarkably enlightening and mature response is something like this (my recollection): “I believe God forgave you on the day you confessed. You now need to forgive yourself. You have told the truth. But in your clinging on to your guilt, you are enslaving yourself. Feel free. Feel liberated. It is immaterial how people see your truth. The only person who knows you didn’t throw matches for money is you. And that’s all that matters. If this is the truth, stop feeling guilty. You have shown extraordinary courage by telling the truth. Now show it again by living with it, irrespective of what people think or say of you and your truth.”


Hansie gets it! And starts over again. His inner peace helps him find his own, true Self. Magically, he discovers, people around him and the public of South Africa at large, still revere him as their hero. Not just for the great cricketer and the captain that he once was but for the courageous human being he now is. At a football match at his alma mater, Drew College in Bloemfontein, where his teacher invites him to be the Chief Guest, Hansie is overwhelmed when he receives as standing ovation from all students, parents and teachers.


He realizes that the truth has indeed set him free.


Sadly though, his eventful and beautiful Life, was cut short on June 1, 2002, when the plane he was traveling in crashed in the Outeniqua mountains due to inclement weather. At his funeral, his mentor Peter offers a fitting eulogy (as I recall): “Hansie’s truth set him free and has delivered unto him a peace and joy, now (in his death), that is beyond the comprehension of us humans.” Interestingly, South Africans, in 2004, voted Hansie as the 11th greatest South African ever in their country’s history!


So, when you are in the eye of a storm, especially when caused by your own questionable actions, saying the truth, as you know it, may, undoubtedly, make the situation worse. You may invite unprecedented, often hostile, reactions from unknown quarters. But still choose to say the truth. And live with it. Because it will set you free. And where the soul tastes freedom, it finds bliss!

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