Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Lessons About Values From The X Factor

If you are an X Factor fan, you undoubtedly saw Nicole Scherzinger’s melt down last week.  I am fascinated by how people perform under pressure, and almost equally interested in how personal values impact everyday decisions.  Last Thursday, the X Factor had some of both.

For those of you who didn’t see it, Watch now.  The X Factor is a tv show where contestants perform songs, America votes, and then the next night, four judges decide between the bottom two vote getters which one gets eliminated. Rachel Crow was clearly the better of the bottom two, both in that night’s performance and for the entire season.  It came down to the last judge, Nicole Scherzinger  to decide whether to send her the other contestant home, or make it a 2:2 tie, in which case it would go back to America’s vote.  Nicole abdicated her responsibility and gave up her power when she said the following.

I can’t make this decision, because I’ve been up there and I know how it feels and I love and adore both of you, so I have to go to deadlock.

If Nicole truly thought Marcus was better, there would not have been an issue.  But she didn’t say that, and clearly did not believe that Marcus was better because Nicole burst into tears when Rachel was eliminated, and spent the remainder of the show sobbing with her back to the camera.

I am reminded of my favorite quote about values.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Although Rabbi Hillel lived 2000 years ago, he captures the essence of the fundamental human conflict between the interests of the self vs the interest of other people.

Nicole seemed too into herself.  “I can’t make this decision, because I’ve been up there and I know how it feels.”  Watch the video again, and see how self absorbed she is.  She lost the bigger picture – her job required her to decide, and by not deciding it was unfair to the contestants, unfair to the audience, and may have hurt her career longer term.  I was among the many on Twitter who said she should not be rehired as a judge.  “If not now, when?” Thinking about other people is a habit that Nicole needs to cultivate.

And Rachel Crow, was on the other end of the spectrum – she did not protect her own self interest.  Right before Nicole cast her vote, Rachel let her off the hook, saying

Don’t cry … I’m ok with whatever you decide.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”  Rachel’s empathy is a wonderful thing, and is part of her strength as a performer.  But feeling someone else’s pain does not mean owning someone else’s pain.  Nicole’s decision was painful, and she should not have been given any excuse not to make it.  Nicole may well have made the same non-choice, but little things to add up.

Simon Cowell, a judge and Rachel’s mentor, also made a values-driven mistake.  His statement when he voted was “only for himself,” and did not do anything to convince the other judges to vote for Rachel.

There’s no point in even saying anything… Marcus, you are going home.  I’m sorry.

“No point in saying anything” is like saying “if you don’t vote for my person, you are totally stupid.”  Simon would say something like that, and throughout the show was sniping at Nicole, and spoke disparagingly about her ability to mentor her contestant Josh.  This makes for good tv, and promotes Simon’s reputation as the bad boy of the show.  But I can’t help but think it was a factor in Nicole’s non-decision.  In stead of making it easier for Nicole to vote for Rachel, he made it harder.

Values shape and limit our behaviors in both big ways and small.  I am convinced Rabbi Hillel had it right.  Having the right balance between the self and the other will, on average, lead to a better life.