One Neighbor in the Planet’s Neighborhood

The craze of the Olympics missed me. I don’t really know why. I admire the athletes and I love to see American women and men win the biggest prizes on the biggest stages they will ever occupy. The personal stories of the athletes and their families is also classic fodder for the patriot in each of us. I haven’t heard a bad one.

I understand the fanaticism in the games and I want see it continue and grow. It’s fun. And these athletes are extraordinary.

This first week of the games though has provoked many opinions about the coverage by NBC, mostly regarding the tape delay approach and how so many of us have particular interest in one sport over others. I get that also. Americans want to possess the intergalactic remote control, be able to watch all of it live, and be able to switch from track, to boxing, to gymnastics and then of course, to water polo, on demand, all from our couches. Well at least that’s what I want.

Putting all of that aside for a minute though, I want to suggest an opportunity that is somewhat missing from the coverage that I hope is not missing from Rio itself. I hope the sense of the global community that has arrived in Brazil is one that promotes just that: community.

I grew up during the American led boycott of the 1980 Summer games in Moscow, and the Soviet Union’s return of the favor by leading a boycott of the 1984 Summer games in Los Angeles. Sadly, there is quite a list of boycotts and other protests connected with the Olympics, some I knew and others I didn’t, dating back at least to the 1936 games in Berlin. I decided not to dig past that one.

But thankfully today, the Cold War is over. It is however, sometimes hard to tell here at home. There is a new kind of Americanism getting a foothold here that is unsettling to me.

Honestly, do we really need to hate the competing countries in the games? Even playful, symbolic nastiness like I might display against a certain pro football team from the Boston area, seems misdirected against a soccer team from Sweden or a basketball team from Australia. It seems horrible directing it toward an individual teenager who swims for Russia.

So here’s my suggestion to NBC and to all Americans enthralled by the games: let’s take the opportunity the games give us as just one member of the global community to engage with that community. Let’s invest in the learning moments created by the international culture in Rio this month by showing and watching some of the great stories of athletes and families from other places.

Let’s be as gracious and as classy as we can be during the competition. The sportsmanship prize won’t ever be more valuable than it is in the Olympics. Not for us. I often write the most valuable foreign policy strategy our country could use is to work at being hated less by others. We just don’t make it a priority and at the Olympics, it should be easy.

Too often, Americans make the mistake of thinking people from everywhere else want to take away what we have. That is actually not true very often. It would be great if people from other places commonly wanted to do what we do, and behave the way we behave. I’m afraid that is the case even less often.

Fortuitously, I’m taking a break from the coverage of the games and leaving the country for a few days to go fishing in Canada. I am going to a camp that I went to a couple of years ago. I was mildly surprised on that trip that not a single Canadian showed any particular interest in me and my American partners. I won’t be surprised by it again.

There is a world full of people out there who think about us less than we think they do. Many people and countries have great stuff and do great things. These are people and places worthy of a little American interest and curiosity. Maybe even admiration and envy.

With that in mind, my goal these next few days while I am off the grid in a remote part of Ontario won’t be to try and be interesting to the Canadians I meet. It will be to make sure they know I am interested in learning about them.

I hope our country does some of that in Rio while I’m gone.