The Olympic Spirit can help Make America Great

I love to watch the Olympics. In addition to a display of unabashed Nationalism (a feeling often lost in the environment of globalism), it is a period when competition rules the day. We are proud of our athletes because they represent “us” and stand as a proxy for our desire to achieve.

I am reminded of the tag line from the old TV program, Wide World of Sports…”Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports…” This was in the days before ESPN’s plethora of channels filled the fiber optic lines (we used to say, air waves) with a drivel of obscure events and human interest stories often only tangentially related to actual sports.

The show highlighted the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” These are concepts that seem anathema in the age of participation awards.

The Olympics mirror real life. You are either on the podium, proud recipient of a medal, or you are standing on the sidelines pondering that one small mis-step and wondering if you have enough in the tank to make it another four years.

Michael Phelps is my hero of these games. It is easy to love a winner, but that is not all that drives my admiration. His is a heroic tale in the old Greek mythology sense. He was beaten by Chad Le Clos in the 2012 Olympics and was taunted by him in the run-up to the rematch. That seemed to fuel his desire to win and he came back to trounce his antagonist, not to mention racking up a parcel of gold and silver along the way.

Greatness to failure to success…that is a story to which we can all aspire. Whether on an intimately personal level, like trying to lose a few pounds in the face of a societal pressure to over-indulge or defeating a great army on the field of battle, overcoming one’s circumstances and standing fast in the face of what may seem overwhelming odds defines the human spirit.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, that is the environment to which I most relate. Having started over a dozen business…and watched many of them fail, I know that “agony” up close and personal (a feeling virtually all entrepreneurs have experienced).

Yet, it is exactly that awareness, that success depends on your efforts, but is tempered by the fates over which you have no control, that gives life meaning. Hellen Keller, a person who overcame more adversity that anyone else I can image, summed it up best, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Moreover, it is consistent with the spiritual journey we travel. God demands of us that we put to use all of the talents with which we have been blessed, be that great or small. With that blessing He sets us on our course in life, the outcome of which we cannot know a priori, but in which we must have faith. I believe that regardless of their professed beliefs, there are few competitors that have not looked to the heavens and asked for favor on the eve of battle. This is at least a tacit acknowledgement that success in life demands more than we can give alone.

Somewhere along the way, we must all face the demons that would drive us to mediocrity. We are forced to choose between simply participating in life’s journey and accepting whatever is thrown at us or pulling ourselves up and forcing a showdown with whatever stands in our way.

Donald Trump says that he will make America great. He will not; we will. We will when we choose to compete…with cheap overseas labor…with imports from countries that subsidize the goods we are sent…with ideologies that would destroy our culture. We do not need a demigod to tell us what we already know. We are leaving the gifts we have been given on the table. We know better than that.

So do we choose to be Michael Phelps, to not let past defeats prevent us from creating future victories, or do we succumb to the belief that we are victims in a world that is stacked against us? Yes, it may be so, that the odds are not in our favor, but we will never know what success lies ahead if we do not give life all that we have to give. That is what has always made America great.

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