Why service and care are so important
As a nine-year-old boy I remember being so inspired by the Olympics on television that half-way through one of the field events I decided to go and try my ability at long-jump.
My ill-advised run-up was through the hall corridor and jumping from the front door out into the street.
The first jump was modest but sadly the second jump saw me collide with our passing neighbour Mrs Fox….and I was promptly grounded in my room for the rest of the afternoon.
But despite such experiences, ever since I can remember I have loved watching the Olympics and the amazing standards that human beings achieve – whether it’s the fantastic speeds of 100m sprinters, the sheer heights reached by athletes bundling their whole bodies over the high jump or the poise, balance and coordination of world-class gymnasts.
Celebrating the possibilities and capacities of human beings is one of the wonderful things that the Olympics offers, along with characteristics such as determination, discipline, and the like.
And with the advent of Paralympics we are rightly celebrating the capacities of differently abled human beings too - again in truly inspiring ways; the Channel 4 Paralympic advert being a glorious example of showcasing some remarkable talent. It’s hard not to admire such individuals.
Of course there’s a danger in being rose-tinted about some of this – because we are well aware from doping scandals and illegal practices to enhance performance that the temptation to cheat one’s way to the top is one too strong for some to resist – indeed perhaps too strong a temptation for whole teams to resist at times.
The prizes can be so great, the glory so intoxicating and the fame so alluring that some resort to desperate measures in order to find that competitive ‘edge’.
There is in short, much in human nature that we see coming through such high-stakes competitions as the Olympics which is far from admirable.
None of this need detract from admiration for those who are “clean”, “legal” and “fair” but it does remind us that we need to be somewhat judicious and hesitant in exercising our admiration.
One of the questions arising from our admiration however is whether it is good for us? Does it lead us anywhere worthwhile? Does such admiration work for the well-being of ourselves and others?
Some would argue that admiration of others can lead ironically to a sense of our own inferiority and inadequacy.
Channel 4’s hashtag for the Paralympics advert is #yesican and some commentators have already suggested that actually, for the majority, the truth is #noican’t – at least not to the standard shown in the Olympics or Paralympics.
The danger with the message “yes I can” is, they argue, that actually, if I don’t then in some way I am to blame, I have not utilised my talents, realised my opportunities, taken the moment, and I am to blame.
For able and differently abled people this message can be at the least dispiriting if not undermining. Unspoken and unrealistic expectations are not reached and a sense of failure can result.
That’s why service and care which demonstrate another’s worth to them, which show them that they are valuable and treasured, are so important.
In this way we begin to communicate to others not only their intrinsic worth but also that they are admirable, helping them to treat themselves as such.
I am thinking here not only of Christian volunteers in Suffolk such as Town Pastors who help those worse for wear after a night on the tiles and in dishevelled state, not only those serving alienated young people in youth projects such as the Hadleigh porch project, not only those quietly providing for the most needy through foodbanks, but a myriad of others who in hidden and unspoken ways build up those around them, communicating to them their dignity and a gladness that they are there.
The fabric of our society is strengthened by such individuals in untold ways, as our admiration and care is channelled to fruitful ends.
None of which is to suggest that we should not continue to celebrate and admire the achievements of a very special few human beings who have reached world-class standards in a variety of sports.
I Iook forward to continuing to do so, secure in the knowledge that my days of leaping out of the front door into passing pedestrians have long gone.
-- The Rt Rev Dr Mike Harrison is Bishop of Dunwich