The world has again witnessed two weeks of extraordinary beauty and talent by young athletes gathered from throughout the world. The athletes met in Beijing for the XXIXth Olympic Games of modern times and competed on a global stage. They inspired me and I believe they must have inspired billions of human beings in every part of the world by the amazing feats of speed, strength, agility and teamwork of which we humans are capable.
The athletes of these Olympic Games demonstrated their concentration and grace under pressure. Some won medals, but most did not. Their crowning common achievement was to come together in the spirit of friendship and peaceful competition, and demonstrate to the world the incredible beauty not only of their skills and talents but of peace in action.
The Olympic Games show us that peace and goodwill are possible. The flags of nations are raised in honor of the achievements of the athletes. The flags symbolize victory in peaceful competition, not the failure of war. What a different ground of competition the Olympics provides than does the battlefield of war. A person can be the best in the world regardless of the size of one’s country, the color of one’s skin, or the riches one has amassed. Victory is determined on a peaceful and level playing field, without weapons of violence or undue influence.
The Olympics value human life in all its variety. There are no exclusions from the human family. Victory is celebrated, but it is also recognized as transient. One can be a champion, but there will always be new champions. Some champions compete against each other, while others compete against the records of champions of the past. The valor is in the competition, the glory is in being part of it.
How can one not be thrilled by watching the athletes in their native costumes entering the great arena of the Olympic stadium? How can one not be overwhelmed with the beauty of the pageantry that surrounds the opening and closing ceremonies of the games? How can one not be struck with the thought that this is what life on our precious planet could be, not just for two weeks but for all time?
Of course, there cannot be continuous year-round Olympics, but the Olympics show just one facet of human greatness, that of athletic prowess. There could be other great festivals and celebrations of human achievement in the areas of music, poetry, dancing and drama. We could celebrate those who work to save the environment and its precious resources, those who protect endangered species, those who create alternative energy sources, those who work for peace and justice. There is so much cause for celebration, starting with the miracle of our very existence.
The Olympics give us a glimpse of what is possible for our species and our world. They demand that we be more than quiet (or even noisy) observers. They challenge us to re-envision our world, and imagine the paradise that our planet could be. Do we really need to settle our differences by war and violence rather than by law and diplomacy? Do we really need to divide up the earth’s resources so inequitably, so that some live in overabundance while others cannot meet their basic needs? Do we really need to keep destroying the Earth as though future generations are of no concern to us?
We have an Earth, a water planet, which supports life and is endlessly interesting and beautiful. We have a sun that powers our planet. We have the Olympic Games to thrill and inspire us. We have talented human beings across the planet. The Olympics, so fresh in our minds, should embolden us to say: “We can do better, much better.” In a democracy, the fault for not doing better lies not just with our leaders, but with our own apathy. After the Olympics, we can get up off the couch and do more to help our Earth stay green and healthy in a just world without war. In the Nuclear Age, it’s actually up to all of us to build a better world and assure that there is a future.