The Winter Olympics: a Cure for Cynicism

Austrian alpine skiers pose for a photograph in the Olympic rings at the Olympic athletes mountain village in Rosa KhutorCynicism is a very post-post-modern virtue. Contemporary humor is soaked in cynicism as any episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report will show you. Often, it is the cynical approach which is deemed the most realistic and the most reliable. The “Keep on the Sunny Side” people of our day are looked on with suspicion, as if an ulterior motive lurks behind all that gratuitous positive-ness.

I am certainly guilty myself of adding a large dollop of cynicism to what life serves me on a daily basis. I am very cynical about politics, celebrities and our celebrity culture, professional sports; I am very cynical about the human race as a whole, to tell you the truth. I find this all a bit shocking as I am generally a person with a bright view of life. But it is hard to maintain, especially as you slip away from the glow of youth to the gloom of middle-age. Not that being older is necessarily a gloomier time but often any light you see has a hazy edge to it; your silver comes with a cloudy lining. Cynicism creeps up on you along with wrinkles and hair loss. It almost feels inevitable.

If cynicism is the belief that all human behavior is motivated solely by self-interest, there is certainly a lot of fodder out there today. But I find my tendency to cynicism greatly challenged every four years when the Winter Olympics comes around again. Of course, I know there are many reasons to be cynical about the Olympic Games. These reasons have been well documented and every time an Olympiad rolls around, the cynics emerge in force. Yet there is something to the Games that challenges a deeply pessimistic view of humanity. For me, the Winter Games stand out in this regard over the Summer Games. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the nature of many of the sports involved: fringe sports to say the least with many athletes who labor at an obscure discipline who cannot possibly be in it for the money or fame as neither ever comes their way.

At Sochi, Russia in 2014 there are examples galore for cynicism but as I watch I find far more glowing examples for a bright view of humanity. There is unabashed joy and silliness on display. How can you keep a dim view of humankind when you see the Norwegian curling team’s pants in high definition? How can you not smile and root for the snowboard cross gold medalist, Eva Samkova, who exuberantly crossed the finish line sporting a handle-bar mustache painted in the colors of her Czech Republic flag? How can you retain your gloomy view of people when you are practically blinded by the outrageous display of orange on the crazy Dutch fans at the speedskating events?

Cynicism takes a beating in the CBC broadcast I have been watching here in Canada. Alex and Frederic Bilodeau and their own unique band and bond of brothers; Gilmore Junio stepping aside to let eventual silver-medalist Denny Morrison skate in his place; Summer Olympian Adam Van Koeverden, in his role as CBC commentator for these games, choking up in a report about hometown support for athletes; figure skater Patrick Chan mouthing the words “I’m sorry” from the “Kiss and Cry” when he realized he didn’t strike gold for his country; and Canada’s LaPointer Sisters – Maxime, Chloe and Justine Dufour-LaPointe – and their parents’ genuine and compassionate example of the phrase “We Are Family”.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a cure for cynicism. Maybe it has moved beyond epidemic to pandemic in our society. But the Winter Olympic Games come as close to a cure for me as I have found  anywhere. If nothing else, the Games help stave off what is a really toxic view of life. There is no real joy or wonder to be found in the supposedly “realistic” perspective on humankind that cynicism offers; so why not embrace the opportunities, when they present themselves, to fall into the arms of unashamed and unapologetically human moments when they come around, even in the form of some insanely dangerous and beautiful sporting events beamed in from half a world away.