Various people on the BBC keep telling me that "We've won lots of gold medals." I'm a bit confused about this. I haven't been anywhere near the Olympic Stadium or any of the outlying venues and, anyway, as there isn't a funny photoshop event, I wouldn't stand any chance whatsoever of winning anything if I did enter. In fact, it would be more embarrassing than Eddie the Eagle on a bad day.

As far as I can make out, in each event one person wins a gold medal. They are all exceedingly good at their chosen sport and must have trained really hard for a long time. I'm glad they are so happy when they win although I do feel sorry for all the competitors who don't. Imagine putting all that work in and getting nothing for it at the end of the day, which I don't have to because I know exactly how it feels. If I was in charge I would give everyone a gold medal. But, I am not in charge and in these Olympic Games it is definitely only the person who comes first who wins a medal, not me and not anybody else.

In all seriousness I do not like all the patriotism that surrounds competitions like the Olympic Games. I don't want to be proud of the fact that somebody from Sheffield who I have never met has just won a gong by proving himself to be better at something than everybody else. I really don't like all the triumphalism that follows the event. The whole thing stinks of warfare, oneupmanship and capitalism to me. I don't like the way that everything is being turned into a competition nowadays. There are shows on television where people compete to be called the best cook. There are national and international prizes for best books and best films. Completely talentless people are being duped to make fools of themselves on television by cocking up things they couldn't do in the first place. It's about winning at the expense of everyone else losing.

It's not that I am against winning per se. I try to win. When I put together a service or write a blog post, I want to win. But not "win" as in being better than anybody else, but "win" as in succeeding. Back in the day when I was a lorry driver I went for the win. It's a pretty mundane job but I got pleasure out of doing it well, never having an accident and never breaking the rules of the road. Most days I went home feeling like the job was well done. When great artists paint a great picture, when great authors write a great book, when great ballet dancers dance a great ballet, they shouldn't need to be told they are better than everyone else, they certainly don't need to be told they are not quite as good as someone else. Winning should be a personal thing and never comparative.

Last week I posted a piece on the difference between pragmatic people and idealists. I suggested that they were two distinct types. It seems to me that another two distinct types are those who get wanting to win by beating others and those who perceive such endeavour as "non-sporting" in the extreme. People who enjoy competition, being involved in it themselves or watching it, think it is as natural and good for you as breathing in fresh air. Those of us who avoid competition just don't understand why competitors want to get their kicks by rubbing the noses of those they beat into a big, stinking pile of "you loser!"

However, it does appear to be a competitors' world that we live in and if you aren't prepared to compete with everyone else, including colleagues, friends and family, you end up with nothing. Perhaps we lionise gold medal winners because it justifies the lengths many of us will go to in order to come first in life. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus was in charge of the Olympic Games the medal ceremonies would consist of Our Lord calling all the competitors together after each event and telling them, "You've all done very well." And leaving it at that.


NO WE HAVEN’T — 28 Comments

  1. I am in total agreement. I have never liked the “competition factor.” What I like is to see the participation and the overcoming of odds. I choke up when I see Oscar P run because I can see what he has done just to be there. To me he is one of the real “winners.”

  2. You’ve never seen the movie “The Incredibles” have you?

    One of the central ideas behind the story is summed up in this dialog between superhero woman Helen (also known as Elastigirl) and son Dash, a little boy who has super running powers:

    Helen: Dash… this is the third time this year you’ve been sent to the office. We need to find a better outlet. A more… constructive outlet.

    Dash: Maybe I could, if you’d let me go out for sports.

    Helen: Honey, you know why we can’t do that.

    Dash: But I promise I’ll slow up. I’ll only be the best by a tiny bit.

    Helen: Dashiell Robert Parr, you are an incredibly competitive boy, and a bit of a show-off. The last thing you need is temptation.

    Dash: You always say ‘Do your best’, but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?

    Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.

    Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

    Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

    Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

    It’s actually a cute animated movie. Rent it sometime. There are some really funny moments in it. I love the character Edna Mode.

    • You’ve encapsulated why I disliked that movie, Tracie.

      The Right *loved* it. “See, it shows that we 1% really ARE BETTER than everybody else, and the damn ‘share-the-wealth’ Democrats TAXES are stealing* our rightful riches&rule!”

      * “Stealing” by all of 33% of annual (wage) income, no matter how high said income is.

    • And JCFs reaction is exactly why I was stuffed into countless lockers as a kid. I’m bright, OK, exceptional, to be exact and I’m just plain tired of acting stupid so that people who are threatened by my intellect feel better about themselves.

      My son’s kindergarten teacher told him not to read to the other kids because it made them feel bad. He read the Harry Potter books at age 5 and actually understood the archetypes, etc. I call BS on that teacher and all other people threatened by a display of other peoples talents!

      We homeschool because he would continue to be asked to be mediocre just to “fit in”. I’m sorry if those lines (from The Incredibles) make people “feel bad”. I refuse to keep myself stifled because God gave me talents that others don’t have. I happen to suck royally at art, but I don’t ask Michaelangelo-level artists to stop creating just because I can’t do it.

      Why do we continue to coddle mediocrity and stifle God-given talent? Why can we not celebrate each other’s gifts rather than feeling threatened by them? Why do we continually ask people to stifle their gifts just because not everyone shares them?

      For folks like me who saw the insides of countless lockers whose only crime was that we were exceptional at something, those lines from The Incredibles really spoke to us.

      God gave us all gifts in certain areas. I decided a while back that I was no longer going to be ashamed of mine. I don’t flaunt it, or use it to put others down, but neither do I hide it as Dash is being encouraged to do. If other people are threatened by my gifts, too bad. I cannot be responsible for how others feel as long as I’m not hurting anyone – I’m just being the person God made me to be.

    • To be honest, LA, I don’t think you are arguing with what JCF said, but making a separate, and extremely valid, point. This post is about having to come first by publicly showing that you are better than others. You state in your comment that you do not need to do that. JCF’s comment is about the fascism that comes from elitism. You do not come across as an elitist in your comment. Personally, I empathise fully with your predicament. Both at school and at work I have been bullied because my mixture of ability and lack of ambition appears to really annoy a lot of other people.

    • Indeed, I was mostly commenting on his first line where JCF makes his statement about why he dislikes that movie. Interestingly enough, those lines encapsulate precisely why I love this movie.

      While it is not my intention nor do I set out to be publicly “first”, I often end up there just by virtue of my gifts. I don’t think Michaelangelo woke up one day and decided to beat everyone at painting, but he ended up showing up everyone else in the field, because frankly, he was that awesome. Now I’m no Michaelangelo in my field, far from it, not famous in any way shape or form. In fact I doubt if anyone I’ve worked with would even remember me years later. But merely using that as an extreme example of where this thinking can lead to.

      And…exactly why I don’t think it’s fascist to be successful because you’re really, really good at something. The “right” that he’s talking about are generally people who lucked into their lot or have gotten where they are because of unscrupulous tactics. I believe that taking advantage of your talents to the detriment of others is evil, and so for them the poo-poo is well-deserved and likely not harsh enough.

      Amen to Tracie for publishing those lines and it’s sad that they make people uncomfortable – because why wouldn’t one encourage their fellow human to be all that God made them to be without jealousy and bullying.

      As for competition…while it clearly doesn’t motivate some, it motivates others…sometimes to great benefit to humankind (like scientific or social advancements). And that spirit of being publicly first is sometimes the motivation some people need to excel. Everyone is different and should be encouraged to be motivated by however God wired their brains…be that public competition or inward ambition or a more passive approach.

      Personally, I’m not a sports fan…but I do enjoy the Olympics because I appreciate the artistry of people who have perfected a God given talent as much as musicians have – it’s like music of the body. And if direct public competition is what happens to motivate these people to perfect their craft…be it fencing, swimming, equestrian or even (gasp) synchronized swimming, then so be it. Public competition doesn’t motivate me, but I acknowledge that it works for others and I want to be respectful that God made us with all kinds of motivations, public, private and passive.

    • It is worthless. The athlete has worth, the athletic accomplishment has worth, the games themselves once had worth, but the medal itself, is worthless beyond its value in a pawnshop. As a matter of keeping score, it actually has negative value, having created an environment as far from goodwill and good sportsmanship as possible. Money and power ruin everything, like a disease, because, when offered, we can’t seem to help doing anything to gain them.

  3. I can’t understand patriotism either. What had I to do with being born in a certain country? Sure I’ll do my best to be a good citizen but that is different from, ‘my country right or wrong.’

  4. Well said, Jonathan.

    I hate all the fuss about how many gold medals each country has won. I thought the Olympics was supposed to be about athletes coming together in peace from all over the world, not a competition between nations as to which country wins the most medals.

  5. Hmmm. I don’t think I’m going to weigh in here.

    Let me just way that this topic was sure to stir up something of a fuss and that I’m paying attention.

  6. Remember that much of the world’s greatest music, art, science and learnings came from people who were motivated by the need to be publicly first. Don’t knock where the motivation comes from…the need to be publicly first is not evil…using it to oppress and dominate others is.

    • From an orthodox Christian perspective, the need to be publicly first is evil. In fact, it’s one of the major themes of the teaching of Jesus.

    • Too true, though Jesus was publicly very popular and while He tended to be quiet and private he did not shirk the public life. I think that one can be motivated by that and yet be humble and not showy. I guess I’ve just known a lot of people who are motivated to be the very best at whatever they do, for whom competition spurs on a greater effort, who are not prideful in any way and are very humble and gracious. I guess there is a difference in my mind between that evil, prideful side, and that side for whom public competition (competition that is open to all) is a motivator to better effort.

      I do believe that God has the only yardstick, though. And ultimately we measure up that way. But I have known so many people who are hard wired to seek measurement from outside of themselves, who are humble, gracious and true “spirit of competition” people – who do not revel in the failure of others, but cheer their competitors and help them cross the finish line ( like that one Chinese hurdler)…I cannot see the sin in their behavior nor in the way that God made them.

    • I avoid committing those sins which I know I am too easily capable of because it is the way God made me, by avoiding the situations in which those sins are most easily fallen into. For example, I do not follow or belong to those aggregators who list blogs in order of popularity etc. This is because they make me jealous and despondent. However, I am certain that I would be exceedingly magnanimous if I was on the top of such lists. In other words, sin is what we do to others, not how we feel ourselves. To say that others are adult and must suck it up is not the Christian way.

    • Excellent food for thought. I do know that many use that same reasoning against homosexuality (following the way God made us rather than squelching it in concern of temptation). So I tend to err in favor of allowing the way God made us shine out. Personally, I am motivated by “of whom much has been given, much will be expected”. I no longer squelch who God made me to be in order to “fit in”.

    • “From an orthodox Christian perspective, the need to be publicly first is evil. In fact, it’s one of the major themes of the teaching of Jesus.”

      Which is why I feel like I should never have been confirmed and should give a new look at being a Heathen, walking a very similar path as that of Joe. That path actively encourages excellence, boasting, being your best, etc. Shame and apology and groveling for being so good at something and for winning in any kind of contest – even if it’s just you against the elements, or something like that – is not welcome there at all. Big food for thought there, it seems to me.

    • Tracie. Nobody has said anything about not being excellent or not battling against the elements. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, okay, but please don’t invent insults.

  7. Just for the record: Miss Gabby Douglas is definitely a Christian believer. Check this excerpt from an article I found:

    After her emotional win the 16-year-old gave an interview with NBC where she expressed her faith by praising God and offering her thanks for the tremendous blessing.

    “It is everything I thought it would be; being the Olympic champion, it definitely is an amazing feeling.

    And I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me,” Douglas said during the interview.

    Later, on Twitter, she continued her praise: “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things He does for me.” She also tweeted: “I love my family, dogs & most importantly God :)”

    (then she gets criticized for it)

    Mary Elizabeth Williams, journalist for the progressive online magazine, wrote, “I’ve often wondered what it is about Christians like Douglas that unnerves me so… Douglas and her ilk seem to espouse a faith based on what is commonly referred to as ‘The God of Parking Spaces.'”

    • Many people refuse or are unwilling to thank God for every blessing in their life, be it “parking spaces,” restorations of health, stamina in hard times, a successful business, or great wealth.

      It is not a matter of “left” or “right.”

      However liberal Christians appear to have allowed the conservatives to appropriate the Faith leaving agnostics and atheists with a bad impression.

      If statements such as Ms. Douglas’ are misunderstood it’s no ones fault but nour own.

    • Saint Paul suggests we should run the race. He does not say God will run the race for us. However, it would appear that everyone who finishes the race gets a gold medal. I see God as one of those people who hands out water to the competitors in marathon races.

  8. After much thought and a nap…(attending to my little boy who is in the hospital recovering from a nasty case of e coli)…I have to say that I agree with MP in saying that purposely seeking out recognition for the sole purpose of inflating one’s pride is certainly evil in the first degree. But I also believe that hiding one’s skills may they be art, music, sports or anything because of fear of public recognition is a) false humility; b) putting one’s light under a bushel and c) burying the “talents” instead of growing and multiplying. I think for me the real distinction is how the accolades are taken by the individual receiving them and the mission and purpose perceived by the giver of the accolades. I am tired of people who actively hide their skills and downplay their talent because of the perception that somehow sharing those talents and the accolades they generate might lead to prideful feelings. I feel that God gives us so very much to work with and to bury those gifts in fear is counterproductive to God’s plan for us.

    Thank you so much for the food for thought. I just get so tickled when I see people enjoying what they’re doing – I love watching the Olympics as I see it as another art form like DaVinci, Mozart, and the Bee Gees (ok, so I just dated myself). I cheer for them all without thought to country.

    BTW, I despise clapping in the middle of service. Drives me crazy…not the time or place for applause. MP, I appreciated the discussion in the middle of my night…gave me lots to think about. Now will you please come stateside and share your wisdom in our churches? 🙂

  9. “And JCFs reaction is exactly why I was stuffed into countless lockers as a kid. I’m bright, OK, exceptional, to be exact and I’m just plain tired of acting stupid so that people who are threatened by my intellect feel better about themselves.”

    It got Joe beaten up in school. People resented his prodigious intellect. But he flatly refused to dumb down just because some people felt threatened by him.

    And no, he wasn’t the big, burly Viking he is today. He didn’t put on this bulk until he was in the Army.