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Michael Drew

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Are You Infected With Olympic Madness?

Posted: 08/14/2012 4:15 pm

By Michael R. Drew and Bob Hughes

Are you rooting for athletes or against other athletes?

If you were one of the many millions of people watching the Olympics, you probably hoped that the U.S. would win its fair share of medals, especially gold ones, to prove its athletic superiority. You may have even checked the results online from time to time during the day to see the tally of one country vs. another -- how the U.S. stood in relation to China, for example.

Did you watch the Olympics for the display of athletic prowess, sportsmanship, suspenseful play and team spirit? Or did you watch them to root for what the athletes are not rather than for what they are?

It's easy to fall into that way of thinking, especially as television Olympic coverage -- especially during the evening hours -- is geared toward viewers of one country. The announcers play up the chauvinism, to the point where it seems that the only athletes who count are fellow citizens.

While the Olympics are supposedly a gathering of nations to celebrate individual achievements in the name of international harmony, they're really a money-hungry extravaganza that features gifted amateurs (who receive a lot of professional training) who hope to make a name for themselves, and who then go on to endorsement riches. So national pride is one thing, individual accomplishment is another, and a potential means toward personal enrichment.

I'm not being cynical; it's just the way these things are. The swimmer Ryan Lochte, for example, who has won 11 Olympic medals in his career, was profiled in the New York Times as someone who's smart enough to try to use his Olympic opportunities to build his brand and build his business. Nothing wrong with that. Building a platform is what it's all about.

But in watching the Olympics I too often feel I'm being bullied to root against others, to define myself as what I'm not. This is a way of thinking that is likely to become more prevalent over the next decade.

We live in what you might call a "we" age, when people are more concerned with working together for the common good than in stroking their own egos. But every age tends to take things too far. We're now heading toward a time when people are likely to define the group, and how you work together, more by what you stand against than what you stand for. These ideas come courtesy of Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, which I wrote with Roy H. Williams.

Our book identifies cycles of society as society swerves between an individualistic "me" era and a more civic-minded "we" one. People periodically renegotiate definitions of politics, manners, morals and success based on whatever new values society chooses to use as a lens to judge what's acceptable. But what starts out hopeful often ends in name-calling and fear-mongering.

The Olympics might've been a nice summertime break from the cruelty of the world -- the civil war in Syria, unrest in the Sinai, hate shootings in the U.S. -- but they, and our attitudes toward watching them, reflect the world in ways that great athleticism doesn't in and of itself. Awareness of these attitudes is critical to fearless living and to avoiding the negative effects of name-calling and fear-mongering. By rooting against athletes, countries and, by extension, other people, we're in tune with what will become our increasingly divided way of thinking.

Patriotism is good; xenophobia rooted in jingoism is something else.

 

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