Thursday, February 06, 2014

Olympics highlight everything that is right with the world

Tonight’s the night. The 2014 Olympic Games kick off in Sochi, Russia. Technically, the games started on Thursday with women’s snowboarding. But tonight is what I’ve been looking forward to.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympics showcase the host country’s past, future and present in grand style. There will be music, dance and art. Athletes will, of course, be on hand, but for a few hours of the games, they are not the focus. Russia is.

There’s been controversy heading into the Russian Olympics. Gay rights activists held protests in 19 cities across the world seeking to persuade sponsors of the event to speak out over Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality. Counterterrorism experts spoke loudly about concerns in Sochi’s security. A recent poll by CNN said 57 percent of Americans think terrorists will strike the games. There’s even been blatant mockery of some of Russia’s less-than-first-world accommodations.

Despite the controversy, despite the security concerns and despite some people’s lack of understanding of other countries, there are 88 nations sending athletes to the games. The United States is sending 230 athletes, more than even the host country has playing.

In other words, the concerns haven’t prevented participation. Nor should they.

The Olympics provides humanity with a rare opportunity to come together in celebration of the things we have in common rather than argue over the things that separate us. For the next 16 days, the world will be focused on mere human beings doing superhuman things. It will give us a break from the constant rattle of the bad that happens in the world.

That’s not to say that bad things won’t continue to happen — surely they will. But for a little over two weeks, we’ll have good to balance out the bad. We’ll hear stories of downtrodden kids who get scholarships to go to prep school to learn their sport. We’ll hear stories of defeat turned into later victory.

We’ll root for and celebrate people whose names we have not yet heard. Many of those names will belong to Americans, but some belong to those of other nationalities. For the next 16 days we’ll mix patriotism with humanity. We’ll be prouder of human capability than the colors on our flag.

The Olympic games are what the world could be if it weren’t for all the chaos we focus on the rest of the time. Some may think them to be a distraction, or that we set aside reality for a couple weeks. But there’s no reason it can’t be like this all the time.

It’s a matter of priorities. As I said earlier, the chaos of the world still exists today, as it will tomorrow and next week. But we choose to focus on something else. We choose to focus on the good. We choose to be the people we can be … the people we should be.

Scott Leffler is an average human being who marvels at the exceptionalism of others. He’ll be tweeting about the Olympic games @scottleffler