Celebrating Cultural Diversity While Remaining Unified Through Olympic Values

Originally posted on August 8, 2012, for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Read the original post in full here.

In the twenty-first century, internet and social media have brought globalization to a new level. Information technology and other advances bring people together and offer hope for a brighter future.
In our world, this presents a dual challenge—respecting the ‘other’ with whom we are brought into contact in an increasingly frequent and salient fashion, and protecting our own cultural, ethnic, national, and religious identities in light of constant exposure to diversity. An additional challenge, which many of us may experience in some form, is that of self-identity—am I a Jew, an Italian, an Israeli, an American?

These questions can lead to unfortunate outcomes on the micro and macro levels. I believe that Olympic values in 2012 may offer the optimal answer. Through the Olympics, the world’s nations compete to bring medals home. It is the ultimate honor to wear one’s national colors while competing against others representing their own heritages. Yet at the same time, there is a great source of respect upheld. Ironically, Olympians competing individually rarely get into personal conflicts while professional athletes competing in team sports are wont to. This speaks to integrity, honor, and respect. Athletes standing alone at the Olympics bear the weight of their nations. Through the respect shown to one another, they transmit a message of mutual respect for the various nations.

For those of us viewing Olympic Games, it is impossible to ignore our similarities—as well as our differences. Certain nations will win many awards; others will win fewer. Some long for the winter Olympics; yet others shine in the summer Olympics. I will root for the American team as an American, the Israeli team as a Jew who has lived in Israel, and for team Italia in tribute to my Italian heritage. But I will also be happy when the Egyptian, Japanese, Swiss, or Thai team wins a medal. This is out of respect for the cultures and nations which they embody, amplified by the fact that I have friends from each of these countries. A few decades ago this would have been unusual; today it is the norm.

This is the powerful key that Olympic values offer. Through respect for diversity we can maintain our own unique qualities while learning from the successes of others. We can be multicultural while still maintaining multiple cultures. As technology brings us closer we must balance cultural differences with integration of different cultures—all the while maintaining our personal identities. The Olympics, with its origins in ancient Greece, can teach us all how to build a better future, so that in another two millennia, regardless of what globalization may bring, we can still see the torch lit and the flags raised as each country and nation hopes to bring home a medal.

Originally posted on August 8, 2012, for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Read the original post in full here.


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