I noticed during the Olympics a fair distribution of druid opinions both for and against the event, for all kinds of reasons. Concerns about the meaningless noise, the fake-feel-good, the corporate angle – all those unhealthy food and drink sponsors seemed a bit odd. There were political issues, social justice issues – it’s hard to see the Olympics as a single event, because there’s so much other stuff going on around the sport.
Mostly, I can do without the other stuff. So for the sake of not writing a small epic, I’m going to skip thinking about anything not sport related.
I have mixed feeling about competitions. That’s as true of bardic contests as it is of running. On one hand, that competitive spirit can beget divisions and enmity, bring feelings of failure and cause misery. On the other, competitions drive us towards excellence, push us beyond our boundaries and enable us to celebrate success and brilliance. I think in an ideal world, both competitive and non-competitive spaces are needed for true flourishing.
Winning is great. Knowing how to win and lose gracefully are even better. The person who can win without crushing and the person who can lose without feeling bitterness, are giants. When personal excellence is more important to you than whether you won, and when doing all that you can is all that you ask of yourself… then you may be onto something.
I wonder how many people have sat on their sofas around the world, swigging beer and feeling an achievement based on the actions of others. I wonder how many people have been inspired to try something. Here in the UK, I rather expect bike sales will go up this summer. And how many of those aspirations to physical fitness will fade away once the extent of the work called for becomes apparent? But even if only a handful of extra people make it onto a path of personal excellence, this will be a win.
Excellence is not the same as winning. It does not have to be competitive, although it can be. It doesn’t even need recognition. Its just about giving everything you have, passionately, repeatedly, for the sake of being the very best that you can be. That might not mean running at high speeds. It may mean making the best cakes, or saving abandoned dogs. It may be all about the compassion you show in daily life, or the beauty you bring into the world. We can, as Bill and Ted so finely put it, be totally excellent to each other, as well.
So, what happens next? Will we carry on with our sporting heroes, or will we saunter back to the celebrities who are famous mostly for being celebrities, and to whom the term ‘excellent’ cannot really be applied? Will we be inspired to acts of excellence in our own lives, or will the moment pass? Are the Olympics just a cheerful distraction and a fad, or will we undertake to make a meaningful Olympic legacy here in the UK? I shall try not to be too cynical….