By David Hegg
For the past few weeks I’ve made time to watch the Olympic Games, and I’m glad I did because what I heard and saw from the athletes reinforced the truth that diversity need not divide.
For too long we Americans have listened as power-hungry politicians and leaders of various movements have pounded the dogma down our throats that we can’t get along because of the differing amounts of melanin in our bodies. They’ve canonized the horrible lie that skin color so drastically separates us that our history, our national achievements and culture, and the flag that represents our democracy are all riddled with systemic evil and need to be radically destroyed in order to rebuild a new kind of nation, conceived in victimhood and dedicated to the proposition that color, not character, creates one’s identity.
Thankfully, that’s not what I saw played out over and over in the Olympic venues. What I learned confirmed my deeply held ethical foundation: When you take politics and power out of the equation you create a safe space for camaraderie, honor and grace to show itself at the highest level.
Here’s what I learned watching the athletes who represented us, as well as their opponents from other countries, as they competed in Tokyo:
• The road to success is paved with discipline, courage and good ol’ hard work. That’s right! Every Olympic athlete, not only those who medaled, spent years and years training their bodies, improving their technique, perfecting their strategy, and building the mental toughness to push through adversity. They didn’t buy the lie that what happened to them was more important than their response to it. Rather, they persevered through every negative circumstance to earn the right to represent their country on the biggest stage in the world. Hard work is still an essential to a successful life.
• Those who competed were ethnically diverse while all wearing the same uniform:
Contrary to all the political assertions about the process being systemically rigged, it was clear that those individuals who had the best times, the best scores and the highest skill levels earned the right to compete, regardless of their ethnicity. And just as important, the uniform of their country — not ethnicity, age, or gender — declared their primary identity. This gave rise to a camaraderie that, sadly, should inform our political arena. I watched as losers — even those who were supposed to win! — congratulated winners. I saw competitors surrender their chance to win in order to help those who had fallen. And most of all I saw a diverse set of brave individuals transcend the differences that we’re told divide us as they stood together in red, white and blue.
• Those who competed declared it was an honor to represent their country:
As I watched the athletes compete it was so refreshing to my soul to realize that the disparaging rhetoric of some against our country has not killed off national pride and love of country. Time after time I listened as American athletes declared how honored they were to represent their families, their cities and villages, and most of all, their country. Yes, it brought tears to my eyes.
So, what am I saying? Just this. Don’t believe the mantra that some are shouting in our ears. Don’t believe that character and hard work are of no avail if you’re Black or superfluous if you’re white. Don’t believe that our nation is irretrievably broken and nothing short of annihilating our history and culture can rebuild it. Don’t believe that being a victim will give you a better life than overcoming adversity with grace and grit. And for goodness’ sake, don’t swallow what the politicians are serving if it at all leads you to believe that your fellow humans — made in the image of God — are your enemies.
I’ve come to see that the Olympics are more than a few weeks every four years that give us a front-row seat on some excellent competition. They are that but don’t miss the bigger picture. The Olympics are a reminder that we’re in this together, and hard work, perseverance and honor can produce a true unity that honors our diversity. We all bring something to the team that is vitally needed and must be respected. And if we the people understand, believe and demonstrate that we can deal with our differences differently than the hate mongers are demanding, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll try to get along better themselves.
And that would be golden.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.