Not all the memorable moments at an Olympic Games are created by the athletes. So far these Olympics have given two wonderful instances of split second revelation.
The first occurred during the chaotic cultural melange that was Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Any opening ceremony after 1936 gave the lead is a piece of political cultural propaganda and Boyle’s was no exception. Part way through the cameras cut to a view of the Queen. She was caught studiously inspecting her fingernails, obviously bored out of her mind. Beside her Prince Philip was reading his programme as though in search of something interesting. It was almost enough to make me a royalist.
The other moment was during the Men’s Team Sprint in the Velodrome. As the British team rounded the first bend the commentator excitedly yelled, “France are already behind by nine thousandths of a second.” This is memorable, and not just because beating the French by any measure is an occasion of deep satisfaction. It was significant because the statement punctured some deeply held progressive dogmas.
If we want to win the most infinitesimal sliver of time matters, and the Olympics are about winning. In the Olympics there are no prizes for everyone, not everyone passes the exam. The Olympics are meritocracy writ large. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Perhaps the most important lesson from the Olympics is that success is celebrated and discipline is essential for success.
Real competition, as at the Olympics, gives birth to excellence. Why do sporting records constantly inch up? For the same reason that the profit motive is the most productive driver of general wellbeing. For the same reason that more technical development occurs during wars than in peacetime. Success is valued and failure sucks. People become successful athletes because they like to win. In the Olympics we see a voracious appetite for personal excellence.
Just because failure is not a pleasant experience progressives attempt to deny its existence. This penalises success and failure. GCSE exams have had 6 grades so that 98.8% of pupils manage to ‘pass’ with at least an F grade. That F in the real world of work signifies ‘Fail’ and is less than useless in getting work after school does not matter, as long as feelings are not bruised.
Yet success cannot be achieved, personally or societally, until we learn that success warrants recognition, and we also learn to cope with the reality of failure and its consequences. Kathleen Grainger won a gold yesterday in large part because she hated getting silver three times in a row.
When banks are “too big to fail” we privatise profits and nationalise losses, and more importantly we subsidise and promote failure. When we give jobs to people because of the schools they went to, whether in the financial world or in Glasgow Council we penalise the whole of society because the best don’t win the prize.
For any athlete, in any sport, success demands commitment and discipline. In this sport is no different from any other activity. No-one can progress at the piano and become a successful musician without years of constant and continuing discipline. No-one can progress and become a real success in anything, business, art, marriage, parenthood, without personal discipline.
For any athlete, in any sport, to achieve success demands commitment and discipline. In this sport is no different from any other activity. No-one can progress at the piano and become a successful musician without years of constant and continuing discipline. No-one can progress and become a real success in anything, business, art, marriage, parenthood, without personal discipline.
In politics I have a great deal of sympathy for anarchism as a political philosophy, however, the unfortunate truth is that most people are just not grown up enough to be anarchists. The easiest Christian doctrines to prove by empirical evidence are the Fall and the total depravity of mankind. To be successful anarchy demands not just vision, idealism and commitment but high levels of self discipline. Without those high levels of self discipline anarchism rapidly descends into self-indulgent libertinism, as we can see so clearly in the Occupy movement.
Likewise no-one can progress in the Christian faith without those personal spiritual disciplines once taught by the Church. George Barna said, “Christianity would be incredibly influential in our culture if Christians consistently lived their faith. The problem is that millions don’t live like Christians – and that’s partially because they don’t know how.”
In how many congregations of the rapidly shrinking liberal church are people taught how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to meditate, how to be silent, how to fast, how to keep the Sabbath and the other disciplines of the Christian life? Come to that how many evangelical congregations actively teach these disciplines?
I can almost hear the cries of, “But it’s just sport, not real life.” Those who campaigned for a sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa rightly told us that “You can’t isolate sport from politics.” We can’t isolate any aspect of human activity from the rest of life. We are integrated creatures. Principles which apply in one field of activity generally apply in other fields of activity.
Sport is not war by another means, it is life stripped of progressive veneer, and people applaud the result. Perhaps we should recover a Christianity stripped of its progressive veneer, where nine thousandths of a second do matter. Along with George Barna I suspect that we might then be a wee bit more effective than we are today.
Citius, Altius, Fortius