Every two years, we love celebrating a chance for nations to put differences aside to come together for one thing every culture has in common: sports.
We celebrate the Olympics as a tool of international diplomacy. People with an astonishing array of languages, religious values and societal structures interact in a competitive but ultimately peaceful way. It’s comforting to know despite the shaky nature of world politics and crises, we can agree on one thing: Every four years, we should have an opportunity for everybody to play hockey.
But I wonder — is there an opportunity that we as Americans are missing here?
I’m not talking about extending a hand to the world. I’m talking about extending a hand to each other.
Think about it: Our country is embroiled in one of the most divisive political eras of our history. We have deep societal divides on issues including same-sex marriage, minimum wage, the rights and limits of corporate power, healthcare, the environment and many others. The powers that be would have a hard time choosing between pizza and burgers for a congressional dinner, much less bridge more meaningful political divides.
Everywhere you look, it seems we have factions. Even close families are a little more on edge about political discussions around the dinner table. Neighbor against neighbor. Parents against children. Friend against friend.
It’s a tense time in America.
Where can you find unity? In the crowds around televisions in sports bars and living rooms across our nation. Because it’s the Olympics.
The Olympics makes the most hardened skeptics and cynics tear up at the sound of the national anthem or the sight of the old Stars and Stripes fluttering in the breeze. People diverse in ethnic background, gender, socioeconomic status and political affiliation find their common ground in chanting: "USA! USA!"
We’re Americans. We root for our athletes. We’ll drop our petty or even serious differences for a chance to cheer on Steve Holcomb’s Night Train bobsled hurtling down the track, or pump our fists as the Flying Tomato lands another nearly out-of-control flip. Side-by-side, we’ll hoot and holler for J.R. Celski as he rounds his last lap in a tight race.
I’m not naïve enough to suggest that sports is the tool that can solve all our problems. But we need common ground. We need to find the things that draw us together instead of starting conversations with the issues that tear us apart.
This Olympic season, put off reaching across the ocean. Reach across the coffee table. Share an Olympic moment with someone you might feel has ideologies on the far spectrum of your own. You never know what moment might spark something between two people who feel they have nothing to talk about.
At the very least, you can talk about how weird curling is.
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