Monday, July 28, 2008

On Flags, Borders and Patriotism...

My wife and I were watching some boxing on TV the other night from Las Vegas. The boxers were all draped in the various flags of their countries and even wearing them on their boxing trunks. It caused a healthy discussion between us about the meaning of wearing your country’s "colors" and whether it is appropriate or not in professional sports.

I suppose there is an underlying theme starting to take root here on my blog discussing and questioning the divisions of mankind via borders, religions and political parties. On one hand, it is healthy to have pride in one's self, nationality, and/or beliefs. It is quite another to flaunt or be boastful about such or feeling that somehow our race or nationality or religion is superior and more significant than all others. This attitude between governments and its peoples in my observations have been at the core of the world's historic conflicts and wars. Most of the world grows up being taught to revere or respect God and country before that of personal sovereignty and self worth…or respect of OTHERS.

We see this strikingly evident in these sports events. When a competitor becomes a champion or wins an important event, it is somehow important for him/her to give credit to their god, to their family, or to their nation for the opportunity and the win. I have similar negative reactions when I see professional sports figures "crossing" themselves when making a touchdown or coming up to bat in baseball. The subliminal message to me is that somehow they won or will make a hit because God ordained it or that their country, race or community is superior to all others. You very rarely hear a competitor honestly say "I worked hard and sacrificed my whole life for this accomplishment, and I thank all of you for recognizing it. I am proud of myself".

To this point in life, I don't have a huge hang-up with international competitions and events like the Olympics. Unfortunately though, these things get tainted with this "we" are the best...or the world because of our accomplishments or lack of them in the sporting arena. Should we really be encouraged to root for a competitor based on their race, creed or nationality? Is it even appropriate for a competitor to "wear" their flag before, during or after an event? In some cases I would personally "shudder" to have certain athletes or artists in "my" country representing me or my ideals of what "America" stands for.

Quite often in the news you read of athletes being injured or killed for losing a competition on behalf of their country. Many soccer stars over the decades have been killed in Latin America and elsewhere for making a mistake or "losing" a game for "their country". This becomes a dangerous mindset...and arguably is a replacement often times for underlying hostilities between these forces of state, religion or race. Some of the biggest rivalries in tennis have been between the USA and Russia. Why? Well, to me it is obviously representative of the continuing hostility and mistrust these superpower governments have historically represented to the world.

Another problem today is you have certain governments holding their "stars" prisoner. In order to compete internationally they have to have their government's permission, and in the cases of Cuba, Venezuela and other tyrannical governments, these competitors will never be seen by the world in competition unless those governments allow them to travel...or the person finds a way to flee and pursue asylum within another country. These governments force their athletes and artists to make a decision between living in obscurity their whole lives or risking everything including their extended families to live and compete in a free country or society.

Where is the pride in wearing the "colors" of repressive governments and regimes? What does it mean when people don’t want to take credit for their accomplishments? In a boxing match or a soccer match, if one nationality wins over the other, does it really mean they are a better country than the other? If an American player loses in the ring or on the field, does that really excuse an almost international chuckle under the world's breath that "see, America isn’t all that great and powerful"? What does it mean when a Mexican beats a Puerto Rican in the ring? Is Mexico a superior country? Are we somehow invisibly fighting cultural wars at these sporting events with so much emphasis on one's nationality or religion?

Personally I think it would be healthier to see competition as global and on individual merits. Heck, many of the team sports in the USA have a number of first string players who were not born in the USA. Soccer, baseball, basketball...all has star players that are not "American". Does that mean that it’s not truly an American team and we shouldn’t take pride in their accomplishments? Maybe for purists that is a point to be considered. I like to see a world where competitors can choose which country they are going to live in and what team they will play on. If they play outside the USA, does that make them "Un American"? If a Cuban exile succeeds playing in America, is he representing America, or Cuba? Where does the pride belong?

On a small scale, I see the psychology of sports first hand here in Panama and other small Latin countries. When they play and beat a much bigger country's team...there is an immediate country wide fiesta in the street with chanting and “nah nahing” the country they beat. It’s as if these players are the total alter ego of every local citizen. Is that a good thing? And why don’t we hear the same jubilation when a Panamanian discovers a vaccine that saves millions of lives or when a student of any discipline wins significant international awards? Does that not have the same significance as a sporting event?

The main thing I am pointing out here is that these are all learned behaviors on a global scale. It goes back to the days of the Greek and Roman empires and early Olympics...and is now continually carried out on a global basis through various international competitions and periodic modern Olympics. Once again we face huge politicizing of the coming Olympic Games in China. It is now looked at by them, and the rest of the world, as a time to show off their country, and hopefully their athletes. If they lose face at home and don’t win a majority of medals, will this somehow mean they are far inferior to the rest? If the USA athletes don’t do well, will it mean something to the rest of the world? And the politicizing of this goes back a long time...much to my disdain.

I leave off with the lyrics of my favorite John Lennon song. As weird as he was, he hit this theme right on the head:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one


Bibiana said...

Una sola bandera, un solo pais universal, sin fronteras, un solo amor a Dios, sin religiones, sin monedas, compartiendo todo y ayudandonos mutuamente, todos unidos en paz y amor.

Para mi, este seria el mundo ideal, el paraiso.

En todo hay competencia en este mundo, entre los humanos y sus paises.

En el deporte es lo mismo, yo discuti con mi esposo, la noche del boxeo en television, pues mi punto era, que es muy patriotico ser campeon a nivel de una competencia mundial, de un pais tercermundista, donde los deportistas y en cualquier otro campo, tienen que hacer mucho esfuerzo, fisico, mental, sus familias y el mas grande, economico para salir adelante, buscar patrocinios privados o del gobierno. Al final si se triunfa, este hijo de esa nacion es un orgullo para todo el resto de sus compatriotas, es la buena cara para mostrar al mundo, el buen nombre para mostrar del pais, el que sea. Por que no es normal que en un pais pobre, haya triunfadores, atletas, cantantes, cientificos, etc.

Mientras que los paises desarrolladdos y ricos, es normal tener estrellas en cualquier campo, no es sorpresa para nadie que ellos tengan los mejores cantantes, atletas, cientificos etc, por que vienen de un pais con dinero y poder, que nadie tiene que esforzarse demasiado para apoyarlos en todo lo que necesiten. Solo mostrar su talento y ya, inmediato tienen todo el apoyo que necesiten.

Esta para mi, es la gran diferencia.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.