Like a lot of families around the world, my family has spent the past week enjoying the Olympic Games. From the breathtaking pageantry of the Opening Ceremonies to the ‘Gold-palooza’ of Michael Phelps performances, all of us have found ourselves in awe of what we have watched. I’ll be honest – at the outset of the Olympics my wife and I found ourselves wrestling with how we were going to handle these Games. Neither of us thought we would restrict our kids from watching the athletes compete but we did wrestle with what we would tell them about the Games host. I’ve never been shy about much in my life (my family, friends and professional colleagues can attest to that) but my anger at the Chinese Government (not its people) runs pretty deep.
In the Summer of 1989, men and women a world away from the one I occupied at the time found their dreams and aspirations brutally crushed by the tanks and soldiers of the Chinese Army. What had started as an amazing display by members of my generation calling for freedom ended in what can only be called described as a State-sanctioned murder. Every generation has its ‘wake-up call’ moment for the harsh reality of the big, bad world and for me and my fellow members of Generation X it was the mind-numbing slaughter in Tiananmen Square. It is something that I’ve never forgotten or forgiven. Nearly twenty years later what was I as a parent to tell my kids about what they were about to watch?
When the Games were awarded to China I was not thrilled. I thought it was an insult to those that died nineteen years ago as well as to the ‘professed’ spirit of Olympic movement. Why should the world reward a nation who uses bayonets and tank treads on its best and brightest and then has the gall to act as if nothing happened? The IOC thought nothing of that fact but it left the challenge of explaining the worthiness of its host-nation decision to our children without any type of respectable guidance.
As someone who has spent big chunks of his career working and writing for a lot of different occasions and audiences I am very familiar with the term, ‘putting lipstick on a pig.’ Explaining the ‘worthiness’ of China as a host-nation I found to be one of those occasions.
In addressing the ‘China’ issue my wife and I explained to our oldest two children that in every country there is great history and good people but sometimes there are bad governments who are in charge of both and want the world to see something that is not reality. Instead they put forward an image of what they want people to see. Both asked the classic human question, “Why?” and that was perhaps the hardest part to answer. Responding with the classic parental retort, “Because that’s the way it is” seemed empty but what was there to say?
The world is full of cold realities and explaining that there are people out there who believe the best way to lead a people was by an ‘iron grip’ rather than giving them freedom, voice and opportunity was very difficult to explain or comprehend – even for adults. As we explained this situation to our children, my wife and I couldn’t help but feel that this was one of those moments that the babies we once held were growing up to take their share of ownership of the world. Fortunately as this lesson was being imparted, the captured imagery, the human stories and the actions of these Olympics yielded a number of other great lessons both serious and fun for my family to share. These included:
1. Regardless of their country of origin, focus, sacrifice and hard work are the core ingredients that got every athlete to the Olympics and they are the same ones that will yield success in any path of life.
2. Winning is important but winning with class, integrity and humility says even more than shattering World Records – See anything associated with Michael Phelps.
3. The President made the absolutely right call in going to Games – He did the American thing while there too – he spoke his mind, went to church, cheered his heart out and got to hang out with some great girls in bikinis.
4. Selecting a cute child to be the ‘face’ of your nation over the child who can give them a ‘soaring voice’ (as well as a ‘cute face’) is a shallow lie. – See the child lip-synching scandal or refer to the Milli-Vanilli ‘experience.’]
5. Talking trash will always come back to bite you in the end – No doubt about it – See the French Swim Team in the 4×100 Relay
6. Silver Medals shines brighter than Gold when there is no question about the integrity (the ages) of your team or the scoring system. See the Chinese women’s gymnastics team.
7. English subtitles should be used when Bela Karolyi, the legendary gymnastics coach is your in-studio commentator. So should a wardrobe consultant – starting with dress shoes and socks.
8. It is possible for children to get ready for bed (rooms picked up, bathed, teeth brushed) in record time if there is something that is worth watching on TV and their parents join them in watching it.
9. Music may be an international language but a high-five between athletes, coaches and fans needs no translation.
10. My children have learned that they live in a land where they can say what they want, pray what they want and do what they want and seeing another land where those things and more are not possible despite the ‘face’ it shows to the world is even evident to the eyes of a child.
I’m glad my kids saw all of these lessons and more. More than anything I’m glad they were able to witness together the triumph of the human spirit and that burns brighter and longer than any Olympic flame.