Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rings That Bind...

*Warning...this is kind of sappy
** Other is also long

I could blame it on my penchant for jewelry (something about all those rings and an abundance of precious metals) but I don’t think that’s it. I think it's that the Olympics brings out a better side of me, and the world in general. They dig down to discover that beneath my realist exterior is a shining hope in the idea that people are fundamentally good and that people with differing values, cultures, and ideals can exist in harmony. I should note that my realism is not a façade, that’s different…a façade is fake, and I am not a fake realist…I am an actual realist with a fundamental belief that people can be better than they are and that there is a greater good to be aspired to…think of it as if the heart of an optimist and the mind of a realist were roommates…and just happened to be renting, well, me…anyway, you get the idea.

I was genuinely concerned about this year’s Olympic Games. I love the Olympics because it seems to be a time when the world comes together to celebrate raw human achievement. Nations quit nagging each other about what belongs to who and who can and can’t have what and we cheer on not only those athletes from our own countries, but the underdogs, the miracle workers, and all those who have fought through adversity to achieve something most of us only see in day dreams; Olympic gold.

This year, however, during the weeks and months when the world should have been ramping up for this special season, riots were raging, editorials were arguing, and politicians and diplomats alike were clashing over how to handle this year’s games. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Chinese apologist. Their human rights record, among other things, is disconcerting, and I do no feel like the Beijing Olympics should be viewed as any sort of reward (on a technicality, having the Olympics in your city is not all it’s cracked up to be…national economies of hosting nations tend to take a medium to long-term dip following the end of the games…go ahead, look it up) but as an opportunity for the Chinese to get its collctive act together.

The fact of the matter is, however, a lot of people in the world felt naming Beijing as the 2008 Olympic venue was a sign that the world had decided to award China for a lack of progress in several areas where progress desperately needs to be made. As cliche as it sounds, my heart hurt watching the torch--the symbol of the games--circle the globe followed by conflict and struggle.

I have to say, however, that in the wake of the preceeding conflict this year's games have been pleasantly surprising.* Despite some initial verbal sparring between world leaders during the opening days of the games (ie Hu Jin-tao telling Bush that China’s human rights record was no one else’s business) and the unfortunate timing of Russia’s invasion of Georgia (don’t get me started) the world has seemed to, once again, put aside its differences to focus on the competition.

I wasn’t thinking about the war in Iraq as I watched the story of a 35 year old German gymnast who began competing again (against 16 year olds, may I remind you) so she could afford health care for her son who is battling leukemia. I was not thinking about our abysmal economic outlook as I watched Michael Phelps and the rest of the US Men’s 4x100 meter relay team defy all predictions and sensibilities in one of the most amazing races ever (note: I was thinking about my abysmal economic situation after jumping on, and subsequently damaging my bed, while watching said race, and realizing I would rather not have to replace it…stupid Ikea). And, I most definitely wasn’t thinking about Iran’s nuclear potential as I wept (yes, folks, you read it here first, Stonewall Stanfill crying like a child) through the women’s gymnastics individual all-around medal ceremony.**

During all of these things I was not only thinking about how proud I was to be an American, but how proud I was to be part of a greater human family (cue sappy peace & diversity iconography. Check). I personally do not ascribe to the idea that we all have the same basic needs, desires, and values simply because we are all members of the same species. I do believe that such philosophy leads to misguided wars and general cultural insensitivity. Our cultures, beliefs, and societies make us fundamentally different from our brothers and sisters from other parts of the globe. HOWEVER, I also believe that for two weeks every two years, we put aside our differences and come together in a spirit of competition that, strangely enough, unites us beyond our socializations and binds us to each other.***

I don’t have the answers to the world’s great questions. I am, in no way, under the delusion that the Olympics will solve the problems on the international center stage. What I do know, however, is that there is something in these games that is special and that helps us focus on something other than our differences. I have a great fear that the lead up to this year’s games were a shadow of things to come…more contention, more demonstration, and more focus on why we are fighting than on why we need to settle our differences. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, but I hope that in the future the Olympic Games will be a venue where the world can come together and focus, even if it’s only for two weeks, on the things that make us great, and not the things that tear us apart.

*I would like to point out that, while this year's games have been thus far a great success, I am shocked and saddened by the stabbing of two American spectators early in the first week of the games. This, however, I think was a random act of violence, and not necessarily politically motivated.

**I would like to make a note that this was at approximately 2:00am and my patriotic breakdown may or may not have had something to do with sleep deprivation.

***Please also note the Olympics are not a substitute for the gospel or the knowledge and faith that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father. This post should not be read as such. Just clarifying.


Jane said...

nicely said. I love watching it too!! although I lost way too much sleep last week do to Mr. Phelps. (Go swimming!!!)