Gold or nothing


A couple of months ago I watched some of the sporting events in the Olympic games. Those were impressive. Everyone knows about Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals for swimming. But a lot of other athletes did well too. They didn’t all win gold, but I’d say getting a silver or bronze medal was also pretty good. It isn’t too shabby to finish second or third in the world in your event.

But I guess I’m no expert when it comes to judging athletic performances. I found that out on one of the sports Web sites where I read the rants of a columnist who had different feelings than me about coming in second and third. Let’s just say he didn’t like it. And don’t even get him started about finishing fourth. How could athletes go all the way to Beijing and finish one place off the medal stand? Losers.

Anyway, the columnist focused mainly on a swimmer who won one silver medal and two bronze medals. I had thought that was great, but apparently I was wrong. The writer not only criticized the swimmer for not winning, but also had suggestions about how she could have improved her training to avoid such pitiful performances.

Well, it was a good thing the columnist pointed out that second and third place were so lousy, because I would have just gone on thinking that silver and bronze medals were cool. Shows you how little I know. I assumed this writer must have once been a great swimmer to offer such incisive opinions about the pitiful Olympian who couldn’t win. But when I looked at the writer’s bio line, I didn’t see anything about swimming at all. I guess he was just being modest.

Then I saw that other sportswriters were also taking shots at Olympic athletes and their dubious achievements. One of our U.S. teams only got a silver medal in its event and was condemned for making unacceptable mistakes. Olympic athletes just couldn’t stumble around like that, you know, because that would make them human or something.

And then there was our basketball team. We were expected to win gold, but several writers groused that the team would fail because it was winning its preliminary games by a measly 30 or 40 points. Plus the team’s past Olympic performances were checkered. Oh sure, the U.S. had won just about every basketball gold medal there was through the year 2000. But then in 2004 they only got a bronze! What a joke! Fortunately we did finally capture the gold medal in Beijing. Anything less might have set off a catastrophic famine or tidal wave.

After those sportswriters enlightened me about the Olympics, I began to realize there were experts everywhere pointing out all of the world’s incompetence. A common trait many of these experts had, I noticed, was that they possessed no experience or education in the subject areas they were criticizing. People who had never served in public office condemned all politicians. Folks who had never been teachers trashed the education system. Those who couldn’t play a note said all the singers and bands were terrible.

People who had never set foot in a church concluded all Christians were hypocrites. Folks who did go to church but never served in any ministries complained that all the programs and worship services were lousy. And so on.

Though I appreciate experts who don’t know anything giving me advice I didn’t ask for, the general spirit of criticism taking over our culture worries me a little. Sometimes I wonder if it might be better to, you know, think a little bit before we speak or write or opinionate. I know thinking isn’t a popular pastime these days. It can be kind of a pain in the head.

But it’s really not so bad. We all have a lot of unused brain cells that could probably stand a workout.

There are certain advantages to thinking. For one thing, I can ask myself questions before I let any actual words escape from my mouth. First, do I really have any idea what I’m talking about? If not, maybe I should keep quiet. In my case that may mean keeping quiet for weeks at a time, but those are the breaks.

Second, should I tell people to live or act a certain way when I don’t understand their situation and really don't live that way myself? Probably not. If I was out there busting my butt to win an Olympic medal, for instance, and some couch potato was blogging condemnations from his comfy armchair, I can’t say I’d take it very well.

Finally, should I stop listening to the critics and start looking for ways to encourage people and develop a positive outlook? Absolutely. There are many good things in the world. To see that I may need to stop staring so much at these computer windows and try looking out a few more real windows.


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