A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Oddly enough, after two weeks the 2012 Summer Olympics are not getting stale at our house. There seems to be a never-ending series of Olympic Moments that stalls the reality train for yet another event that somehow turns into a television afternoon. And these aren’t just those Chariots of Fire flashes of exalted victory and weeping defeat that the media loves so much. They’re revelations of what young people are capable of. What constitutes dedication and excellence? What brings these human qualities together in the same place at the same time and drives athletic performance forward? It’s easy to dismiss the Olympics as the gargantuan circus it has become — and I’ve done it a number of times — but that’s just the glitzy bag they’re dressed in. There’s more to them than that.
The Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is actually a secret code that unlocks a hidden room in our human DNA — a tidy little place where the competitive genes are stored. Yes, that’s right: as much as contemporary North Americans wish to deny it, we are genetically programmed to be competitive.
Human beings are social animals, not unlike a troop of chimpanzees or a herd of elephants. We travel in packs and, therefore, have a burning need to know just exactly where we fit into the hierarchy of the group. It’s Mother Nature’s way of making certain our species survives, by insuring that the strongest genes get passed along. Once we establish that primeval, it’s not such a big step to London 2012. Those young people running, jumping and lifting are doing what comes naturally. Crudely put, they are just answering a call of nature.
Here in the 21st century, there is a strange idea that we should limit a child’s exposure to competition as if it were radon (Remember that stuff?) In fact, the “everybody gets a rainbow” philosophy has pretty much taken over in North America. This is just bad. It’s like punishing owls for sleeping all day. Take a look at any schoolyard. Those little kids figure out who the Alpha dog is pretty quickly — even though they’ve been told repeatedly they’re not supposed to do that. They know who runs the fastest, who has the coolest backpack or who knows all the words to “Call Me Maybe.” They don’t have to keep score. It all comes perfectly naturally to them. This is because, from the day we’re born until the gophers start delivering our mail, we are constantly going head to head with something. If you don’t believe me, ask any parent about the incredible duel they had with their two-year-old. That kid is measuring his abilities, honing his skills, detecting and tailoring his talent — so he can deal with an unforgiving world someday. In essence, he’s competing with the world that mom and dad have created to keep him safe! They don’t call it “The Terrible Twos” for nothing.
Instead of trying to sacrifice 5,000 generations of the human condition on the altar of some Flavour-Of-The-Week self-esteem Dr. Phil nonsense, we should be encouraging competition. Striving for excellence is not wrong, even if you get left behind. The Olympics clearly shows that. Forget about the glare of the klieg lights and the stabbing “how do you feel?” microphones, and take a look at that poor bugger who’s bringing up the rear. They never stop. They finish — even when they know they haven’t got a hope of ever touching an Olympic medal. And when it’s all over and they go home, they aren’t “devastated” human beings, questioning their self-worth. They’re standing tall, three axe handles across the shoulders, proud of their accomplishment because they hung in there with the best. Not only that, but they’ll probably start training all over again, just for another chance to try.
The Olympics might be a five ring circus. So be it. However, we need to bring some of that spirit of healthy competition home to our children — because, these days, when every kid gets a gold medal, everybody (including the kids) knows damn well it doesn’t mean anything.