This is Ye Shiwen. She’s 16 years old. She has just astonished the world – not by winning the gold medal at the Olympics, lots of people do that, but – by swimming the last 50 metres of her race faster than the world record and faster than Ryan Lochte, the fastest man in water.
Of course now there is the inevitable humming and ha-ing about drugs and doping and how is it possible for this to happen and in fact it isn’t possible, so there must be something suspicious going on. It all just makes me wonder about competition and what it is that drives us as humans to do it better, faster, higher than anyone else? What is the allure of being the best? Why do we strive so hard to achieve gold? What makes us want to do that so much we are prepared to sacrifice almost anything? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for striving and improving and overcoming difficulties and limitations through effort and dedication. But….. and here’s a little story, also about Chinese children.
Many years ago, I lived in a little paradise called Swaziland. Surrounded by South Africa, it was a little multi-cultural jewel, with all sorts of nations living and working there as part of international aid schemes to develop this small country. I was at primary school with children of all races and nationalities and all was very well. As a British Protectorate, Swaziland ran its schools along good old British public school lines – lots of of “games”! On a hot summer’s day, we all gathered together at what was called “The Oval”, for our annual inter-house athletics day. In typical primary school fashion, everyone got a chance to “have a go”. The youngest children at the school – all about 5 or 6 years old – were lined up ready for the “GO”. Some were excited, some fearful and some a little bewildered. But this is all character-building stuff. At the ”GO” they all started off down the track, urged on loudly by their parents and siblings. There were about five Chinese children in the mob all running along with the others when suddenly one of them stumbled and went sprawling in the dust. Without any hesitation at all, the other four little Chinese tots stopped running and went to help their friend get back on his feet. Everyone was screaming at them to “RUN RUN RUN”, but they, collectively and without faltering, chose to help their distressed friend instead and togther, once he was standing up again, the five of them toddled over the line – he came first, not winning the race.
And that has stayed with me my whole life – helping each other is more important than winning at any cost.