London 2012 and Humble Patriotism

London 2012 Olympic Torch design. Copyright London 2012.

The 2012 Olympic Torch.

There’s is a bumper sticker that really grinds my gears–at least during the Olympics. It reads: “God Bless the World, No Exceptions.” That sentiment was fine for the past three years and 50 weeks since Beijing 2008. But for the next two weeks of London 2012? No thank you!

Historically, Team USA has done very well at the Olympics–and in the process, teams and individual athletes have often become pop culture icons. You remember, don’t you? I’m talking about the Dream Team, Kerri Strug nailing that landing, Michael Johnson’s gold sneakers, Michael Phelps’ deft .01 second touch. I dare you to watch these videos and not jump up, viscerally screaming, “U-S-A!! U-S-A!!” It’s the type of stuff that can fan the flames of patriotism like no other.

Yet a little humility goes a long way. Despite the goals and exploits of Dream Team ’92, a central Olympic lesson is that anything–including huge upsets–are possible. The Games are an opportunity to appreciate all the gifts God has given to all the people of the world… no exceptions. Let’s support Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt–granted, he is an easy choice because there’s really no use rooting against him (though he is fallible).

Let’s support Maziah Mahusin, the first woman to represent Brunei in an Olympiad. And we can all root for South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. Appreciating these athletes and their gifts goes beyond watching NBC’s inevitable human-interest pieces. The Olympics offers a chance for national pride, it’s true, but also for an international exchange of gifts. So while we can be grateful that the fastest swimmers are American, the world’s strongest man is Iranian, and the best gymnasts–though, as always, not without some controversy–are Chinese.

This mutual exchange of gifts between nations gives all of us a fortnight of brilliant swimming, weightlifting, and gymnastics–and competition between lands that don’t really get along. If we’re grateful, humble patriots, we see how these competitive days also bring harmony to our world. In that way, everyone wins.

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