Two things have dominated Summer 2012: the hosting of the Olympic games in London and the rain. Of the two, it is difficult to say which has had the nation more united in emotion. The Olympics angered us with it’s domination of media coverage, and ashamed us through the failure of G4S. The rain angered us by dominating Summer and, when it started to dawn on us that it was mid-July and we hadn’t yet seen the sun, we began to feel shame for our Great British weather. Thankfully, the opening ceremony and bright skies turned our cynicism into pride. Negativity gone, we are inspired by our athletes’ successes. We line the roads to cheer on our cyclists and flow into venues, ready to scream at the swimming, judo, basketball, volleyball, and any other sport that we were lucky enough to get tickets for. Athletes are idolised and scrutinised: weight, height, gender, mentality, strengths, and more...
Olympic stress on individual achievement falls neatly into the capitalist mentality of isolated success: I can achieve anything that I set my mind on. If I wear the right kit and my mother used the right washing detergent, I too can be an Olympian. I too can rise to the top. It is the individual’s will power and drive that makes them succeed and, thus, anyone can. It’s the American dream, watered down but constantly re-enforced through the media and advertising.
Of course a huge amount of personal effort and sacrifice is needed to succeed, but individuals do not triumph alone. One athlete’s win is also a win for their trainer, their training partners, their family, their friends and their supporters, who all contributed to the accomplishment.
When rowers speak of the crowd’s cheers making them to “go quicker”, a part of the victory must be attributed to the cheering public. When swimming squads handpick women that go on to win gold, that squad deserve a part in her glory. To some extent, the diver whose Dad is their inspiration, the women’s football team motivated by a dame’s speech and even the young people being stirred this week and next by the efforts of our current athletes, all must see their future triumphs as a result of these other peoples’ actions on their lives.
While we watch the Olympics, we must not be fooled by the individualistic attitude fuelled by its corporate sponsors. We survive, win and lose in a network of relationships with other people. The people that encouraged our dreams, reassured us during failures and generally contributed in their own small, yet significant, way to our lives are as much to congratulate or blame as we are. Ecclesiastes says that “Two are better than one” and that “… if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” and, as Christians, we know that we are never alone in our achievement for we have a constant companion in Jesus. But, just as we believe that we do nothing separately from the love of God, we must not forget that this is also true of our human relationships: we do nothing in isolation of the actions of other people.
This is not to belittle the accomplishments of those that set their minds on something spectacular and drive themselves to achieve it. It is rather acknowledging that in personal achievement, we are not alone. The web of people that impact our lives, both directly and indirectly, play a part of each and every one of our successes, whether we notice or not. A win for one is a win for many, as we do not exist in isolation, but in community. Resist the mind-set of capitalist individualism, because alone, you are nothing.