Paul Andersen: ‘Imagine’ giving peace an Olympic chance
March 4, 2018
There was a gold-medal opportunity for peace and unity at the Olympics, but it was lost because of competition — not between athletes, but between nations.
"Peace doesn't sell at Pyeongchang," reported Reuters in its Olympic coverage. For fear of offending sponsors by offering the olive branch to North Korea, major advertisers kept peace out of their product pimping.
"Olympic sponsors told Reuters they didn't want to be seen unwittingly endorsing Pyongyang's participation in the Games by talking about it, given that the United States and Japan both accuse the North of using the Games for crude propaganda."
As a major sporting event before which most of the world stands agog, the Olympics offered the perfect venue for tearing down barriers to peace in an era of nuclear threats. Humanity is so wrapped up in competition, however, that peace and unity are taboo. Competition inspires greatness, but it also fuels ego fixation and nationalism by dividing winners from losers.
This division surfaced as the Norwegians won the majority of gold medals, warranting praise for their athleticism. But as the medals accrued, TV ratings in other countries began to fall.
Viewers were disappointed that the Norwegians were ruling the games. The Norskis took gold while lesser athletes from lesser nations stood lower on the pyramidal podiums where winners literally look down on their competition.
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Nations do the same by displaying their supremacy with weapons and wealth. The nations with the biggest war chests stand on the top tier while the other, lesser nations huddle beneath to be looked down upon.
The Olympics ought to celebrate pure sportsmanship rather than lionizing winners and debasing losers. Cheering on the amazing Norwegians should have precluded turning off TVs just because the home teams, who gave everything they had, were not measuring up.
Meanwhile, Olympic sponsors Visa, Samsung and Coca-Cola hardly mentioned peace as an outcome of the games, which the South Korean president referred to as the "Peace Olympics."
"One Olympic official," Reuters reported, "suggested that a unified North-South women's ice hockey team be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But the peace message is not catching on with Olympic sponsors, which are concerned that it could put them too close to a hot-button issue: North Korea's participation in the Games."
That participation signaled a potential thaw in a heated global conflict. Sadly, sponsors held off on commercial messaging for peace, which often carries more weight than traditional diplomatic approaches. Propaganda won the day.
The exclusive seller of Pyeongchang merchandise said their failure to encourage North Korean involvement came from fear of recriminations from their customer base: "We wouldn't want to upset anyone by going anywhere near the issue."
Competition has been ingrained in us humans since Day One, when survival depended on being the fastest runner, the strongest hunter, the best provider. Life has changed, and we no longer depend on competition to survive. Instead, survival depends more and more on collaboration.
Competition builds teams and nations, but it creates divisions when disparities in wealth, education, training and resources establish hierarchies that reflect obvious advantages and disadvantages.
The military parade Donald Trump has cravenly proposed is planned as a display of American superiority in competition with Russia's Red Square Parade, with North Korea's launching of ballistic missiles, with Trump's preposterous claim that "My button is bigger than yours." The arms race is a competition, and it comes at enormous cost and risk.
The Olympic Games opened with the image of a giant dove and John Lennon's "Imagine." What a perfect invitation to allow peace to reign over national conflicts. What an opportunity to change the tenor of competition to celebrate the best that athletes can be — no matter what their nationalities.
Lennon's "Imagine" is a poetic call to abolish borders of the mind and heart, to resist competition, to pursue unity. His dream begins by asking us to imagine…
"Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer/But I'm not the only one/I hope someday you'll join us/And the world will be as one…"
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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