olympic solidarity challenge

The XXX Olympiad has begun. The world's athletes gathering there have drawn thousands upon thousands of dignitaries, officials, media professionals, security personnel and other support staff to venues in and around London.

The XXX Olympiad has begun. The world’s athletes gathering there have drawn thousands upon thousands of dignitaries, officials, media professionals, security personnel and other support staff to venues in and around London. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, including a few Yukoners, will queue up to see the many competitions. The world’s focus, without doubt, has become fixed on running, jumping, throwing and a host of other Olympic demonstrations of physical prowess and skill.

The civil war in Syria, however, will not stop. Neither will the drug trafficking in Latin America and the violence it brings to the people of Honduras and Guatemala. Drought in the Horn of Africa and the damage caused by severe typhoons in Southeast Asia won’t let up. The fiscal problems of Spain and the low income housing shortage here in Whitehorse won’t disappear.

Global concern, at least for a few days however, will focus on whether Usain Bolt or rival Jamaican Yohan Blake can run the fastest 100 metre sprint ever. Or how South African Oscar Pistorius will do as the first amputee running on blades in head-to-head competition with able-bodied runners? Can Canada achieve its highest summer medal count ever? Will cyclist Zach Bell from Watson Lake exceed his previous personal best and make it to the podium?

The Olympics also offer us an opportunity to celebrate our common humanity. Barriers, that for millennia have and continue to divide us by ethnicity, skin colour, and language, will fade into the background for a few summer days. Even politics and economics take a back seat to those able to achieve their highest, strongest and swiftest results.

A new planetary consciousness has fitfully been evolving over the past few generations as the globalizing effects of our transportation and communications technologies speed our economic integration. The Olympics accelerate this developing mindset. Still, all too often, our sense of solidarity with others is limited to a rather narrow range of family or local civic obligations. Can the biblical notion of “my brother’s keeper” truly be limited to only blood relations or next door neighbours? This is clearly no longer adequate in a world as interconnected as ours. Our solidarity obligations should direct us outward as well.

It must not be allowed to be forever true, as the ancient Greek historian Thucydides argued, that “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” We have to build together a just, sustainable global community based on this emerging awareness of our oneness, or we will collectively fail.

Our new Canadian demographic reality should assist this evolution. More and more Canadians have broader global ties as new first- or second-generation citizens call this nation ‘Home.’ In this light, the current federal government’s restrictive immigration policies and reduced foreign aid dollars, which it is redirecting to narrow, self-serving business and export promotion, must be deemed unacceptable measures of Canada’s engagement in the world.

Clearly we have a whole set of moral, as well as practical issues to deal with as we seek to meet the solidarity demands of global citizenship. We must not shy away from this truly Olympian task. As Harvard professor, Michael J. Sandel notes in his book, Justice: what’s the right thing to do?, “A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It also is an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.”

Sandel concludes, “A politics of moral engagement is not only a more inspiring ideal than a politics of avoidance. It is also a more promising basis for a just society.” Are we up to this Olympian challenge?

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.