Like most of us, I’ve been enjoying watching the Olympics – but as I learned about the personal sacrifices kids like sweet Gabby Douglas had to endure, I thought to myself, “it’s not worth it.” I came across a couple of opinion columns on Huffington Post that spell out more eloquently than me what the problem may be, what the values underlying the Olympic sacrifice are and how they influence collective thought (aka culture & society). I am copying below the sentences that sum up the argument for me:

The pedestal … gold … success … grit and determination and resolve and tenacity — suck it up and grin and do it again and again because today’s record will be broken tomorrow and Tuesday’s excellence is Thursday’s mediocrity and Saturday’s failure. Redefine “success” as prestige and mint it into a medal, then market it throughout society and see it bloom.

Apparently not. It’s all about “winning” — and since there can only be one champion, the vast majority collapses from a broken heart. And don’t celebrate too long. Next year’s gauntlet menaces for all the Little Leaguers and Big Leaguers and those far beyond the world of sports. Businesses can’t just make a profit; they must quash the competition and reign as Number One. In Washington, the party that’s lost its mind bare-knuckles with the party that’s lost its vision — and insanity’s apparent candidate shifts his views like a cold-calling salesman plying for customers. Win and only win. Don’t present a coherent program and argue for it; just launch attacks that are obvious plays for votes and nothing more — because it’s all about “me” and a pyrrhic November victory with no mandate to govern. Stand on the pedestal in January, then plow into the exhausting campaign for the next election. There’s no break.

They’re also unwitting icons of a nation in which relationships are swapped for medals and that transient moment on the pedestal. We do them no dishonor when we see that, nor do we help them by turning a blind eye to the price they paid for their brief triumph. We’re all paying that price. Perhaps it’s too high. – read the entire article by Charles Redfern

This other article discusses the unbelievable performance of 16-year old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, that may very well be the result of grueling training in “Olympic factories” where the life is hard and athletes train because they were chosen, not because they wanted to. The author compares that with the more easy-going attitude of Great Britain, who may be satisfied with bronze. She also analyzes what these Olympic values mean for culture, society, and business:

You might, in fact, think about the things we call “success.” You might think that winning a medal if you’d taken drugs definitely didn’t count as success, but that you weren’t at all sure that winning a medal if you’d lived your life as a kind of prisoner did. You might think that annual economic growth of nearly 8 per cent sounded great, until you found out about the chemicals, and the nets. You might, in other words, think that sometimes the price of success was too high.

And if you were a citizen of a country that used to be a leading world power, and was now only the sixth biggest economy in the world, and which happened to be hosting the Olympics, you might be pleased. You might think that the opening ceremony, which was funny and charming and a little bit mad, told the world that we had a lot to be proud of, but that the most important thing about our country wasn’t our pride. You might think about the young men who won a medal that hadn’t been won for 100 years, and who practiced because they wanted to, and entered the Olympics because they wanted to. And you might well think that there were times when bronze was worth an awful lot more than gold. – read the entire article here.

I like these two articles because I believe it’s important to stop and consider what values we learn to believe in as we worship the Olympics and admire Olympians. I hope the paragraphs I extracted here motivate you to read them and consider: What does it mean to succeed? What is the price that’s worth paying for success? What does it mean for our society when there can only be one winner?