Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Etiquette Through the Eyes of the Olympic Experience

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver were phenomenal, even epic, in so many ways. The heartwarming and gut wrenching stories which began even before the games opened provided a backdrop for one of the most emotion filled two weeks I can remember. With these stirring moments come many examples of how etiquette and respect play a major role in everyone's lives. These events played out on the world stage by dedicated athletes, coaches and volunteers. And it does not take much thought for us to feel a certain personal connection to the experiences of these modern day heroes. Many of us can relate to the feelings of losing a parent or a child and how such a tragedy can derail us for some time. In two cases in these games, Joannie Rochette, the awesome Canadian figure skater who unexpectedly lost her mother only days before the games and Brian Burke, the courageous general manager for the American men's hockey team who recently tragically lost his son in an automobile accident, both found inspiration through the support of those people around them and the world community who encouraged them to go on. These are true heroes whom we will always remember because of their courage. The fact that these two individuals were treated with such respect and dignity and given the choice to opt out if they wanted to, is an example of how we might want to consider treating our friends, family and colleagues all the time. This appropriate, courageous behavior is an example of what etiquette is all about. Putting others first; being respectful of other's feelings no matter what; and supporting the decisions they choose to make with compassion. They both shone as a result, Joannie winning the bronze medal and the U.S. men's hockey team winning the silver medal, and made us all feel a little bit better about the world. And tragically we experienced the death of an Olympic athlete, Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili. We were able in a modest way through the internet to help console his family; to at least express our sympathies and send our prayers and love to his family. It was part of our moral responsibility to recognize the pain of this family and know that this death united all peoples as we watched the flags at the opening ceremony lowered to half staff. And because of our etiquette-what is instilled in each of us- we were able to respond to this devastating and unexpected death with grace. It is a healthy competitiveness that inspires our young athletes to meet on the world stage and deliver spectacular performances of their individual and team bests. We watch with great anticipation, cheering on our home country's participants expecting to win at the games. What we are also privileged to witness are the extraordinary friendships that exist and are grown at the Olympics. And though friends may compete against friends on the course in the end it is the friendship that is the real prize. This exemplifies the true Olympic spirit which is in fact the real human spirit. It is why we can strive for individual accomplishments and recognize and honor the strengths in others. As we watch these events metamorphosed into triumph, I find encouragement in my own life and see how important it is to take the time to discern between when it is appropriate to be in strong head to head competition and when it is time to be humble with gratitude and congratulations. This demonstrates the very core of a healthy civil society. Tom Brokaw's documentary about Gander, NL broadcast as part of the Olympics shows just how the human spirit connects us all in so many unlikely and wonderful ways. Tragedy does give birth to miracles. This documentary by one of America's living legends was like icing on a rich cake. It reinforced what it means to be Canadian. Self sacrifice is a part of everyday life. An overwhelming situation, the horrendous events of September 11,2001 and the dire need to land all airplanes bound for the United States on Canadian soil as soon as possible, was transformed into one of human generosity at its very best. Like most Canadians, the people of Gander wanted nothing in return. Their modesty and selflessness represents the views and values of Canadian society in general. There was something about the Olympics which transcended this usually reserved pride and provided a moment where raw human emotions shined through like a strong beacon. It won't linger long I imagine, but during these tough times for so many people, this as a well needed shot in the arm and there was no hesitation about celebrating. Team Canada, a group of world class athletes most of whom had never met before the games, jelled into a cohesive unit and gave hope to the world, especially the youth, that adversity can be overcome; that friendships run deep and true; and that compassion, humility and mutual respect make us all glow inside. These dynamics pull at our heart strings because they mirror the very way we can choose to live our lives. I like the Olympics because they serve as such a brilliant exclamation mark and awaken our latent awareness of human decency. As the days follow along into spring, and the Olympic moments fade into our memories, I hope the feeling of human kindness remains emblazoned in the forefront of our minds.