Millions of us watched the Olympic Games for two wonderful weeks in February 2002. Millions of us watched beautiful young people compete for glory, strive for their personal bests, and play for the sheer joy of sport. Millions of us were entranced as we watched human weaknesses (cheating, doping, arrogance) pitted against human strengths (fairness, grace under pressure, humility).
“Goodness” was the big winner at these Games. The Skating Federation did the right thing and awarded a double gold. The cheaters and dopers were stripped of medals. The winners were celebrated. The honest losers weren’t losers at all because they too were honored and celebrated for their determination, courage, talent, and perseverance. Despite tremendous fears of another 9/11 disaster, security measures worked and everyone left safe and whole. For 17 days, much of the world was able to join together to enjoy each other, to cheer each other on, and to treat each other fairly. These are all reasons for hope.
As Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, said, “It takes more than crossing the line first to be a champion. It also takes playing fair and not doping.” What a wonderfully simple, clear message for young people: Play fair and stay off drugs and you can be a champion in what you do.
Yes, I know. The world often is unfair. And part of being a good parent is teaching our children to negotiate unfairness. But it’s also part of good parenting to emphasize to our children that they can and should contribute to the good in the world by being fair even when living in an unfair world. It’s a difficult concept to teach our kids. It’s a difficult standard to keep ourselves. It’s often a leap of faith to think that fairness even works. But as the Olympics so vividly demonstrated, when we do manage to do it, everybody wins.
Model, Teach, and Remind
It’s important to model being fair first. When we wait for the other guy to treat us well before we do the right thing, we teach our children that morality is conditional. If instead we work from a position of fairness, regardless of what others say and do, we model a principle for living well. The Russian hockey team was impressive at the Olympics. In spite of their concerns that the American NHL referees would judge them unfairly, in spite of the fact that they lost, they poured out onto the ice at the end of the game and offered enthusiastic congratulations to the winning Americans. They didn’t wait to see what the Americans would do. They didn’t offer their hands in a perfunctory way. Instead, they clapped the victors on the shoulders, encouraging everyone to celebrate the joy of a game well played.