A Light in the Darkness

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling.

I was very much predisposed to be cynical about the London 2012 Olympic Games, particularly about the opening ceremony. The reason for this is that there are parts of our national culture that can be deliberately offensive – national pride is often at the expense of the dignity of other nations. I’m not a very nationalistic person, following along the lines of one of my favourite philosophers, the late great Bertrand Russell: “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.” I don’t think that Britain is better than any other country. There are, of course, differences between nations and we are in many ways very lucky to have industry, sanitation, and all the facets of a first world country, but I don’t believe that being born here somehow makes me special. I didn’t chose to be born here – it was, literally, an accident of birth. I do, of course, respect my country and think that it is a very beautiful land. Other lands are beautiful too, however, and I don’t think just because this is the country I happen to have been born in and therefore am a citizen of that it is somehow better.

My cynicism has largely melted away since watching the opening ceremony live on television. It was a great show; a very idiosyncratic mix of British culture and the spirit of the Olympism. It is this last that has really converted me from cynicism to appreciation. In all my preparedness to be greatly embarrassed by the opening ceremony – the tawdriness that it could have been as we gave every last bit of British culture a nod – I forgot what the Olympic Games is really about.

Community. The Olympic Games is a testament to the enduring spirit of mankind and a place of peaceful international community, where 204 nations have come together to participate in a variety of sporting competitions, which will amaze, excite, and hopefully inspire future generations not only to sporting greatness but to strive for the ideal of greater international understanding and co-operation. To inspire new generations to work for the welfare and good of all human beings, the world over. To support integration, communication, and respect between all cultures and nations. That is what the spirit of Olympism is. The sport is important, the spirit is more so.

The parade of the Olympic Flag and the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron really drove that home tonight in the Olympic Park in London. It did not make me more proud to be British; it made me proud to be a human being, capable of love, of courage, of compassion. It renewed my hope that through participation and engagement in competitions such as these human beings can create ties and bonds that will help us forge a better world where the virtues of love, of courage, and of compassion are held aloft like a torch.

The Olympic motto then should be seen in this light: Citius, Altius, FortiusFaster, Higher, Stronger. Let us be faster to open our hearts to others, let us strive for higher ideals and higher standards of living for all humans, let us build stronger bonds of fellowship between nations, between cultures, between people. Faster, Higher, Stronger.

It may be a difficult course to run; there are always hurdles to be negotiated. But we do have the spirit, we have the courage, we have the love. It may well be that some differences are too great to be fully overcome. It may be that old injuries linger on in human interactions well after you or I have died and go on. It may be that we cannot make for ourselves a perfect world. That does not mean we shouldn’t strive for a better one. After all, as the more informal motto of the Games tells us, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!”.

Let us all open our hearts. Let us all take part. Let us all light a flame in the darkness. Because however close the location, however good the ceremonies, however the medals fall, that is the true spirit of the Olympics and it’s one that should be celebrated, now and forever.

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