Jez's Blog

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What Is The Real Olympian Spirit?

Watching The Olympics Opening Ceremony

How Good Service Turned into a Speed Trip

Blurring the Line Between Fact and Fiction

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Synchronicity - an Everyday Sort of Magic

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How Bob Dylan refused the Box labelled ‘Protest Singer’

The ‘Get Back in Your Box’ Syndrome

What’s all the fuss about?

Reflections on Learning and Teaching

The Third in my Triptych of Entries about Thought

Happily disconnected in Cornwall

The Best Way to Sell is to Do Something Well

Life is Good

Zen & the Art of Birdwatching

What Is The Real Olympian Spirit?


It seems like the whole world is fixated on the Olympics; I’ve been pondering what this fascination is all about. It's like the Olympic stadium is a huge theatre of hope and we’re all watching a drama depicting the ideals of the American Dream. The message is: ‘if you work hard enough, you can be a winner’. As every gold medallist climbs up on the podium perhaps we are all, subconsciously, being fed that uplifting, positive message. No wonder it makes us feel good, no wonder we watch. But you can't have drama without conflict; you can't have winners without losers. The distraught sobbing face of a gymnast who unceremoniously came off the box sabotaging his, his team's and his country’s Olympic dreams comes to mind. And this rare occurrence, when the crushing disappointment of the athlete breaks through the veneer of stoicism, is probably just a glimpse into what many 'also rans' must feel. Have these athletes worked any less hard in the last four years than the winners? Almost certainly not; the fact is that, looking at things more realistically, the message we are being fed is a lie. Don’t believe the hype! However positive you are and however hard you pursue your goal there is every possibility that you may not win the gold medal. That's the way life works: the participants are many but the podiums spaces are few. Does this mean that the whole show is a sham and not worth our attention? Of course not. I wrote an ironic tweet the other day: ‘Every day more gold medal winners are finding out that it’s not the taking part which matters, it’s the winning.’ The fact is that this old phrase which I'd turned on its head, like many aphorisms, actually holds a lot of truth. Of course we all want to win but if you can change the focus onto the more Taosist ‘taking part‘ attitude you’re going to have a lot more happiness in the long run (excuse the pun).



I’m not one of these people who think that children should not practice competitive sports; one part of life is to compete and children need to know about it and experience their efforts in relation to others. I just think it’s important to be aware of our attitude to competing - if we need to ‘win’ to feel good about ourselves then surely something is wrong. Every country has its Olympic hopefuls, young men and women who carry the weight of their nation’s expectations on their broad Olympian shoulders. Over the past few years, through events, news pieces and documentaries an English diver called Tom Daley has been steadily groomed for this role. When his early lead, with his partner, was ruined by a ‘bad dive’ (in the world of diving it means that someone’s toe was probably a few centimetres out of place) all that expectation suddenly did a metaphorical belly flop into the water. In the press coverage after the event I was struck by how well Mr Daley handled this experience; he appeared more concerned about all the people who had invested their hopes and dreams in him than for himself. Of course he was disappointed, that’s just human nature, but he seemed to have things in perspective. Perhaps this was because last year he had gone through the trauma of losing his father to a brain tumour. Whatever the reason it seems to me that this young man showed a higher sort of Olympian spirit, an attitude which could be a real inspiration to young people. As with life, it’s the taking part which matters.

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