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What the Olympic Rings Mean To Me

Competitive sport is only one aspect of the Olympic games.

I proudly admit I have an obsession with the Olympic Games. Even on vacation the first week, I won’t miss the prime time Olympic coverage. Doesn’t matter which sport or what heat, I have to watch.

Is it because I was one of those little girls with Olympic dreams? I think that’s part of it. There’s always something intriguing about watching others achieve what I couldn’t. As I watch Jordyn & Gabby flip on the balance beam, I can smell the chalk and feel the apparatus as though I’m 14 again.

The real magic of the Olympic Games is not personal. It’s global.

We see individuals from every country, who speak their own languages, who may be Christian, Jewish or Muslum, whose skin is black, white and every shade in between, whose bodies range from that of Hercules to a ballerina, and whose luxury back home could range from a high def TV to fresh drinking water.

Rather than hone in on their differences we focus on their intention.

Regardless of backgrounds, they unite in common purpose. To give their best.

The Olympic formula works.

Wars are waged all over the world over our differences but in the Olympics we celebrate them. Bob Costas, NBC’s prime time commentator, will speak of heroics of athletes named Muhammad and Usain right along with Smith and Jones.

Here’s what the 5 Olympic rings mean to me.

1) Common purpose brings solidarity and mutual respect.

The Olympics is an equalizer even though the mission is to “Go for the Gold.”  The fiercest of competitors unite in peace. What a beautiful concept.

2) Through the athletes, we see versions of ourselves.

The Olympics make us question our own life’s ambitions. We may think about missed opportunities, hopes and dreams, and whether or not we could ever be 100% invested in one goal.

3) It validates that failure is a part of life.

One slip off the balance beam, one toe clipping a hurdle, or one extra stroke can take a life long dream and crush it. It takes only a millisecond to define decades of hard work. It only proves to the rest of us that no one is immune to disappointment. Not even the very best in the world.

4) Everyone wants to belong.

Competitors embrace one another. Even at the Olympic level where gold may be the goal, comradeship seems just as important. Team USA unites strangers. Suddenly a soccer player and a gymnast are on the same team. The commonalities are obvious: investment in their sport, in themselves, and in their representation of something greater–their country.

5) The reward of excellence.

We like to see people get what they deserve. To win an Olympic medal the athlete must endure endless hours of training, perform under extreme pressure, and what they can’t control must fall into place. When the medals are awarded, I think it gives all of us satisfaction. We want to believe that hard work pays off. Even if it’s a crude reminder that pay offs can require tremendous patience.

The Olympic rings remind us that no matter how similar or different we are as individuals, we’re stronger and more vibrant when we’re linked together.

So why can’t we link the donkey and the elephant in November? Link traditional and modern families? Link Christians and Muslims? Link black, brown and white?

Like the Olympians, we don’t have to give up our own dreams, opinions, or compromise our values. It’s time to turn our attention to what we agree on, not what we don’t. At least we could get to the starting line with mutual intent.

I hope the Olympics will remind all of us that when united in common purpose, differences just don’t seem to matter.

"To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to." Kahlil Gibran


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[In honor of the Olympic Games beginning today, I postponed my next WAKE UP AMERICA! series post until next Friday] 

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