I just watched the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations. It was a thrilling experience as always (I am a huge Olympic fan) but this time as I watched the athletes enter the stadium I was struck by one particular thing:
How alike they all looked. No matter the country, no matter the dress, no matter the color of his or her skin, every single athlete was overwhelmed with joy to be there. Their excitement was palpable, even through a tv screen hours later and thousands of miles away. And not only were the emotions the same with each group, but so were the faces and bodies. The women looked like the girls I see at the library and band practice. The men looked like the guys I see at the gym and the dog park. If an athlete from Finland missed her entrance and came walking in with the team from Tajikistan, no one would have known the difference. A Syrian could have been amidst the Marshall Islands delegates and we'd never have been the wiser. And if any of the athletes from the entire world jumped in and walked with USA, they would have fit right in.
Even more amazing was to see athletes from Israel, Egypt, and Palestine sharing the same space. Iraq walking in directly behind Iran. North and South Korea putting aside their shared hatred because there's simply no place for it here. It almost seems like the Olympics are a pause button for the world. It's like everyone says, "Yes, we have our differences, but for two weeks we're going to put them aside and instead enjoy each other and view each other on a literally even playing field." Makes you wonder why we can't just do this all the time.
One more thing. We all hear things like, "We're more alike than we are different." Which can sound like a phrase from a didactic first grade lesson plan. But when you look at the Parade of Nations it is shockingly inescapable. People are people. We all have two eyes, we all have two arms and two legs, and we all breathe, speak, and move with the same mechanical parts. Those are obvious similarities. But here's what people tend to forget:
For every single person on the planet - when they get cut, they bleed. (and the blood is always the same color by the way)
For every single person on the planet - when they see or hear something funny, they smile.
For every single person on the planet - when they experience heartbreaking loss or pain, they feel it deeply and are changed as a result.
It's part of what being human is.
We seem to forget that every single one of us was once a helpless baby who depended on other people for survival. We still depend on one another on a daily basis to help us survive, and while no one else is ultimately responsible for our own choices or how we feel about them, it is impossible to survive on this Earth completely and utterly alone.
So why do so many of us hate each other? Why do so many people expend a tremendous amount of energy vilifying and discouraging others? Why is it only during the Olympics and the occasional holiday season that that whole "good will toward men" concept seems to be apparent?
The Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger" is supposed to help the athletes achieve their dreams of superior excellence in their sports and continually push themselves further in their training. What if we applied that motto to the way we look at the world?
Could we trust our fellow human beings faster - not assume that they are out to get us but realize that on the most basic, fundamental level, they feel the same ways we do?
Could we set our mindsets higher - look for the good in others, remembering our similarities before focusing on our differences?
Could we as a race be stronger- lifting each other up and supporting one another, despite prejudices we might have been taught that we now know are wrong?
Could we strive for compassion, acceptance, consideration, and benevolence toward each other? Could we train our minds as we train our muscles to move and think in different ways?
Because there's something else that's true for every single person on the planet.
Each one of us is going to die.
Do we want to make our short time here on Earth filled with seeking out our differences and spreading disapproval and animosity around? Or can we go about our lives realizing the fact that everyone is trying their best to find happiness and fulfillment and sometimes need us to help them along?
Most of us will never vault over a 17 foot high bar using a pole for leverage. Most of us will never stick a dismount or stand on a medal platform. But we can take a lesson from the athletes and push ourselves to act faster, higher, and stronger in our own lives, in pursuing our own goals, and in the ways we treat each other.
We're all walkers in the Parade of Nations. Our flags may look different, but we're all so happy to be here.