I smiled. I said ‘Ahhh!’ in a ‘Isn’t the world a nice place?’ sort of way. I was surprised but pleased to see that the pole vaulting gold medal was shared (between the USA and Australia) at the World Athletics Championships. I hadn’t realised that the competitors could agree to share. If I had been asked about who wins the gold when performances are equal, I think I’d have said that perhaps there was some sort of countback on attempts at the height or a version of a ‘penalty shootout’ though what that means I have no idea! When two equal champions are simply that – equal on the day – and agree that they are equal then I am happy for 2 gold medals to be awarded.
I didn’t smile later. I did say, ‘Arrgghh!’ in a ‘Why is this world the way it is?’ sort of way. I was disappointed but on reflection, not surprised, to read a few days later about the criticism this event had generated – particularly towards the reigning champion from the USA. I can understand people wanting a single winner but what I thought was outrageous was the language used in the criticism – ‘cowards, shameful, pathetic’. I wondered whether the critics would say such things to the athletes’ faces. Social media has provided a decade of anonymity barriers so that possibly today people are so used to their way of speaking irrespective of the moment that they would say such things to the athletes’ faces … who knows?
But I was thinking that when we are seeing people at their physical best and in a spirit of competition but not annihilation – winner take all – we are also hearing people at their verbal and moral poorest. What a species! Two things strike me – the need to comment on other people’s behaviour – what have the detractors and their opinions to do with the athletes? And if you do have an opinion that you feel must be shared (must it?) then presenting it in the best possible construction is the way to go.
Yes, I know that this is simply our catechetical explanation of the 8th Commandment. (I’m not original!) “We should fear and love God so that we do not lie about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or give him a bad reputation but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
People and deeds are intimately linked. But people are not just their deeds. Parents negotiate this distinction in their bringing up of their children. I suspect we’d prefer to be operated on by a brilliant surgeon even though she was abusive to her family than by an ok surgeon whom we thought morally good. I once offered, if the prisoner wanted, to visit him in prison and there were those who heard me who were shocked that I would offer pastoral care to a murderer.
The teaching of the Church always makes the distinction between identity (which means relationships) and behaviour. God recreates his people into a relationship with him – by grace through faith in Jesus who has rescued us – made us alive again – and that relationship guides how we behave – what we do, what we don’t do, and how to keep doing those things which sustain love and life and change those behaviours which God says are selfish and harmful to us and those around us. Only God has the right to speak to all of us about our behaviours – while we are reminded of his first message to us (“I love you!”).
Humanity has an inner desire to be God which gives us the soapbox to tell people what we think! Wouldn’t it be wonderful – gold medals for all – if we thought the best and sought the best for everyone and kept that in mind in what we said and did each day?! Whether we challenge, correct, admonish, encourage, support, help – what does the relationship with this other person say we should do? – Jesus can help us do it each day!