Watching the Olympics and thinking about New Stories

Afghan women

The other night, some friends came over for dinner and part of the conversation revolved around how our myths or stories no longer fit a new reality. Mankind – well, the USA and Russia for sure, and probably Britain, France, and China – have the ability to detonate enough nuclear weaponry to destroy mankind and yet we continue to act as if that were not the case..

I remember reading an article about two traditional Afghan villages getting in a Hatfield-McCoy fight sometime after the Afghans drove the, then, Soviets out of Afghanistan. The feud had been going on for many years in a cold war sort of way. To patch things up, the daughter of one family – let's say Delbar (meaning sweetheart) Durani – was married to the son of the other family – let's say Fariad (meaning outspoken) Mamadzai. 

A couple of months later, Delbar did something that pissed Fariad off and he beat her. Now Delbar, who had perhaps been too coddled as a child, did not like being beat up. The second time Fariad beat her, she snuck away and returned to her village. This put the Duranis in a bind, they either had to take Delbar in or return her. If they returned her, she would probably continue to be beat up; if they took her in, then the Mamadzais would be dissed.

They took her in and the feud was renewed. But this time, both families had AK47s and rocket grenade launchers. This time, the fight was short and lethal. The majority of the men of both villages were simply wiped out. The rules hadn't changed, the stories they built their lives around hadn't changed but the equipment had. The old ways no longer fit the new reality.


So, I sit here watching the Olympics and thinking about how every contest is a zero sum game. This high ideal – this lofty gathering is for somebody to win – for some nation to win. And that means somebody – some other nation – has to lose. And I thought how much that reflected almost everything in our modern world. 

Everything is about winning. I read recently that most people would prefer to make $100,000/year if everybody else was making $80,000/year compared to making $150,000/year with everybody else making $200,000/year. Think about it: we would prefer to make less – be able to buy less – if it was more than the next guy. 

And that led me to thinking about how much different it would be if the Olympics were about cooperation rather than conflict. What if cooperation were the ideal. What if everybody doing better were the ideal.

How about a bobsled contest in which a gold medal would only be awarded if the average time of all the competitors were were no more than 2% higher than the fastest competitor. In other words, to win a gold medal, the fastest guys would have to make sure the slowest guys went faster. How would that change our story of what a winner is?  


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