Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Nature of the Olympic Games

I'll begin by apologizing in my lack of contribution to the blog over the last month. Things have been hectic and I'm sorry to say this had to play second fiddle for awhile. I hope I haven't lost any of our few regular readers.

Recently I received a lot of grief for my excitement for the Olympic Games. To be completely honest, I was surprised and a little dismayed because of it. The summer games have been a very powerful generator of emotion for me since I was a little kid. I don't see why they wouldn't be significant for everyone.

Deep down do I care about swimming, track and field, weightlifting, etc.? No. If it was on TV on any usual Saturday afternoon I might watch it for a while. During that time I would appreciate it, but I don't follow those sports with the same zeal as I do with SEC football. That's not the point. The Olympic Games stand as a symbol of Humanity.

Consider this: when NASA sends deep space probes with the potential goal of contacting extraterrestrial life they use what we comprehend as universal symbols; namely numbers (prime numbers I think). That symbolizes intelligences. They also include symbols of Humanity. If an alien life came to earth and asked "what does it mean to be human?" we would recognize it as a pivotal point for all humans whatever nationality, color, or creed. Now consider the Olympic Games. There are other international competitions like the Olympics, but since their grandeur is less inspiring I will consider them as being less significant.

Because of its broad spectrum of sports, a large portion of the world is able to participate. The spirit of competition shines through in that international differences are ideally, if not always practically, set aside. There was a symbolism when Kerry Strug stuck the landing in '92 that defines the essence of being Human. It is that symbolism that Humans can be defined by perseverance against adversity. On a larger scale we see nations that are not strong players in the world community being forces to be reckoned with in Olympic competition. Kenya has their runners, Romania their gymnasts. Although ultimately insignificant in a capitalistic world market, these are symbols of perseverance and inspiration. They could be springboards for national pride, national identity, and ultimately international security. Perseverance over adversity is a reoccurring theme in many (all) cultures. Nations are forged by the fire of conflict, oppression, and inspiration. It has shaped the course of human history and is so universally shared that it should be considered a defining factor of what we are as a world society.

I also considered art, architecture, music, etc. as being symbolic of Humanity. After considering this for a moment, I realized that those things are a testament to Humanity, not a definition. These things are a product of something greater. The spirit of creating or the ability to inspire through creation or action is much more significant than the creation itself. These things are intrinsic to the spirit of the Olympics.

The very fact that Olympic champions are timeless and borderless shows potential for Humanity to survive. Take note to how many times you see a clip of Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 performance on American TV during the games. She was not American and she put those marks up 7 years before I was born. However, she is a household name. A name I've known my whole life. She has nothing to do with stop the conflicts in Africa, or supplying aid for the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. She has nothing do with ending the Cold War or reconciling the differences between feuding religions. Or maybe she has everything to do with it. Back to the original consideration. If it was my job to answer the question of "what does it mean to be human?" this is how I would respond. To be Human is to so much more than just a species.

And now a deep thought…

In the short time between the starting gun firing and the tape at the finish line breaking, there are no white men or black. No Christians, Muslims, or Hindus. No Americans or Russians or Iraqis. Perhaps it is only in that brief moment that we can simply be Human.

1 comment:

E.Jacob said...

You were getting grief for your desire to watch the opening ceremony, not the competition itself. I think we all agreed that the competition is awesome. Typically I have found the opening ceremonies to be rather lame. Random pop stars singing, crap like that. This year was different and it was very very good.

What does it mean to be human. I think in the end we can't lift ourselves up too much. Other animals portray some of the characteristics that we humans enjoy. Adaptive learning, language, societal interaction, and other signs of intelligence (although, not to our level) is found in primates, birds, dolphins, whales, etc. Additionally, most animals compete in some level of 'athletic competition' again, there are differences. And finally, we certainly posses many of the negative traits as well (war, murder, betrayal, etc.)

I guess it is just interesting how similar we are, yet we are so different. The Olympics represent a large portion of this difference, or maybe our true potential. Maybe someday we can realize this potential.

P.S. Nadia Comaneci is not a household name for me.