09/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

East Teaches West

2008 drummers drumming.
2008 dancers dancing.
2008 practitioners practicing.
2008 painters painting.
2008 ladies lilting.
2008 sailors sailing.

The opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics model a profound spiritual lesson for the West. If we'll halt our over-valued rugged individualism to learn it.

The concept for the opening ceremonies was mammoth, gargantuan, colossal. Over 15,000 performers moved like Swiss clockworks to create a vision of Harmony. Harmony, the balance of opposites, was their theme, and harmonious it was.

A friend, attending a theatre conference the day after the event, quoted one of the attendees to me. "Americans could never do that. Never." What she meant was: Americans could never, would never, subsume the individual ego, the energy of individual accomplishment, to the purpose of the greater. Truthfully, she meant we are not able.

On our planet, we have polarized individualism in the West and collectivism in the East. Each of those 15,000 performers, and, I'd venture, an equal number of backstage participants, if not more, gave their individual egoic satisfaction into and for the goodness, the Harmony of the Whole.

Can you even imagine 2008 Americans doing anything all at once? In harmony, in agreement, in service to the greater good? I can't. Not in the land of the free and the home of the brave where the individual is king or queen.

We in the West need to learn a lesson from the East. (For the record, the reverse is also true.)

There are times when the Harmony of the Whole is far more important than the ego satisfaction of the individual. That's the lesson constantly shown us by the servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan. They work together for the good of the whole. Or, consider the upcoming presidential election. Seemed like a battle of the egos to me during the primaries.

Is anyone political, anyone at all, considering the Harmony of the Whole?

I saw Swing Vote this week. It teaches the same lesson. Kevin Costner plays Everyman Bud Johnson (winningly, I might add). He is remarkable in his very ordinariness, his selfishness, his lack of vision, of the whole. He's Bud for Bud, all the way, even when it comes to his kid, or so it seems. Harmony never enters his mind. Whole? What whole? It is his daughter (what are kids for?) who wakes him up. She reads the letters sent to Bud meant to sway his one vital, critical, determining vote.

{Spoiler warning here!} In the penultimate moment of the film, he wakes up, suits up, and shows up -- not just for his good ol' boy Bud-self, but for the Harmony of the Whole. It made me cry.

The IOC is in deliberations about the next host city for the summer Olympics. Chicago, the Windy City, home of Mayor Richard Daley and Oprah Winfrey, is on the short list. If Cubs territory is their pick, will the West learn from the East? Will Chicago put aside our egoic individualism and learn from Beijing?

The Opening Ceremonies will tell all. Can't wait.