The father of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, defined Olympism to include “adhering to an ideal of a higher life, to strive for perfection.” An honorable goal, but in today’s commercial world the “higher life” ideal seems more quaint and less important. For quite some time the credo of the NFL Oakland Raider founder Al Davis, “Just win, baby”, has moved to the top step of the podium. Yet in the last few days we have seen two young perfection strivers embody de Coubertin’s Olympism ideal quite movingly.
First, Jamaica’s supreme sprint perfectionist Usain Bolt halted a post-race TV interview following the defense of his 100-meter title to acknowledge the U.S. national anthem being played for Sanya Richards-Ross’s 400-meter gold medal presentation across the stadium. It would have been fully understandable for the foremost Olympian in London to continue his interview. After all, it wasn’t his national anthem. But in a totally natural expression of respect, Bolt halted the TV presenter in mid-question to turn in silence and in doing so ascended to a higher station than even his unparalleled athleticism had taken him.
Next came Grenada’s 19 year-old 400-meter star Karani James, elevating both himself and his double-amputee competitor Oscar Pistorius of South Africa by exchanging Olympic bibs after Pistorius was eliminated in their semi-final race. Like Bolt, the young James – who went on to win the gold the next day – saw past the glitter of gold, and instead embraced a model of courage and dedication that he, too, strove to achieve.
Now compare Bolt and James with Obama and Romney. Amidst their less than honorable competition for the oval office, the two cynical pols and their handlers continue to spray the airwaves with negative ads, demonize their opponent, cherry pick quotes and mislead an increasingly frustrated electorate who are simultaneously less equal in education and opportunity, and more culturally polarized as the melting pot has morphed into a salad bar of cultural bins.
As we contemplate the dislocation and enmity that led to the hateful shootings at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this past weekend, we should ask our leaders whether they see their own lack of adhering to a “higher life” standard as being, even in some small way, complicit in the coarsening which contributes to such tragedies.
The Olympic mission, we are told, is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sports practiced without discrimination of any kind, in a spirt of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Maybe we need a Presidential election mission, but one more along the Baron’s line than the Boss’s.
6 thoughts on “STRIVING TO AN IDEAL OF A HIGHER LIFE”
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Good points! Thanks for putting this up; I’ve been disgusted with the commercials from both candidates. We encourage kids to take the high ground, yet our political candidates can’t even be a good example of that? There is a much better way to state why you think you should get the job without throwing someone else in the mud.
Toni: Agreed on those points. The sad and scary reality, as I see it anyway and as statistics would appear to bear out, is that the lesser angels in our nature took off and sprouted whole new sets of wings on a cold January day in 2009 when a black man took the oath of office and became our president. Voices of reason, compassion, understanding, tolerance and love are being shouted down by people who are, as you say, illiterate, as well as bigoted, hateful and scared to death that within their lifetimes they’ll be a minority. And how do we handle that? I fear that the next few decades in this country could make our last Civil War seem like a minor series of skirmishes and family fights.
Toni: Like many progressives/liberals, I share your distaste for the rancor, hyperbole and outright lies the respective campaigns are engaging in; it’s distressing that Obama has not been able to rise above it all and exhibit the “higher life” standard that you talk about. But I believe it’s a stretch, quite a long one, to somehow link the tragedy in WI this weekend with the presidential campaigns. Did Columbine happen because of Bush’s vicious attack(s) against McCain, specifically implying that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock? Did the “Swiftboating” of John Kerry cause, in any way, the massacre a few years later at Virginia Tech? No, of course not. There is no correlation between the ugliness of our political campaigns and the fact that the US is the most violent country on the planet, at least among the industrialized nations. There is however a correlation between the unwillingness of our politicians (our president included) to stand up to the NRA. At the very least, Obama should be demanding that Congress reenact the Brady bill, outlawing assault weapons. It’s a small step, but unless someone has the balls to make that first move, these kinds of tragedies will continue. I for one have stopped contributing to the Obama campaign, instead I’m giving my money to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Taken in its singularity the 2012 campaign is no more harsh or bitter than many in the past. But America of 2012 is not the same America of the past. And so the candidates and their minions must be especially sensitive to how their “Just win” approaches will be read to an increasingly illiterate electorate. When our leaders, who should and do know better, act in accord with the lesser angels of their nature how can we expect others to be lifted to a higher plane? It all adds up over time, and the fact that you’ve refrained from financially supporting your candidate, in fact, helps make my point that no one is exempt from criticism.