A Vincentian View
“Giving Your Best”
I have been on vacation for the past two weeks. I feel fortunate that these were the two weeks of the Olympic Games. During the first week, I was with my two sisters and my brother’s family in Northboro, MA. We spent much of the day by the pool and watched the competition at night. My sisters prefer the swimming and gymnastics to the track and field and so it worked out great for these first days. During the second week, I was in Cape May, NJ at the community house with my confreres. Again, the days offered pleasant time in the sun, and the evenings held the games. But now, it was the track and field which I (and perhaps most of the confreres) prefer.
The most rewarding element in these days for me lay in the fact that the games distracted from politics. Without the Olympics, more of my time would have been spent in conversation around candidates and their posing. I find these types of discussion unrewarding because they almost never center on issues. Personalities too easily and frequently poke their ugly heads into the fray. I know that I am not telling you anything new.
When I was in St. Joseph’s High School Seminary at Princeton, one of our disciplines involved practicing “great speeches” in order to improve our diction as well as our appreciation of good rhetoric. One of those speeches was William Jennings Bryant’s “Cross of Gold” which was delivered at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 9, 1896. At that time, the United States currency was based on the gold standard and Bryant with his supporters advocated “bimetallism” (gold and silver) as the standard. This brilliant speech propelled him into the top spot as the Democratic presidential candidate. No matter where one stands on the issues, this oration compels and educates.
In 1994, the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debates were re-enacted and broadcast live by C-Span. Today, one can easily find them on the internet. These men were running for senator of Illinois and they met seven times (1858) to debate the highly contested issue of their time: the legal status of slavery as an institution. Each debate lasted around three hours with a 60 minute opening presentation by one man, and then a 90 minute response by the other, followed by a 30 minute conclusion by the first speaker. One can hardly imagine a substantive debate of that length today! As the story goes, newspapers would send stenographers to record the entire proceeding. Then, the papers which supported Lincoln would clean up his speech and leave that of Douglas uncorrected. The reverse would be true of those papers which supported Douglas. Going online to listen to some excerpts from these presentations rewards the listener. These men could speak and reason. The debates pushed Lincoln onto the national scene for his 1861 election as President.
In the Olympics, the world puts its best athletes forward. The man or woman who finishes second or tenth or hundredth is still far above ordinary mortals. Why can it not be the same in politics and civil leadership?
I regret that the Olympics have been concluded. Watching human beings perform at the highest physical levels lifts me up and amazes me. I yearn to see men and women perform at the highest spiritual and moral and social justice levels.