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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 1996 Issue #42 

The Olympic Lesson
by Lon Woodbury  

Every couple of years we are treated to an extravaganza called the Olympics. This is arguably one of the most watched events in the world as millions of people from all corners of the world either travel to the host city, or sit glued to their television sets wanting to catch every second of the games. It is obvious the Olympics touch a very basic nerve in virtually all people, as shown by its overwhelming worldwide popularity and support.

But despite the exhaustive coverage, the media misses something when it focuses on the drama of the events, and discusses “who is the fastest in the world,” or “who is the best diver,” or if competitor so-and-so can duplicate his/her gold medal performance from previous Olympics by “beating” his/her challengers. They also miss the mark when they treat it as a world-wide party, or an example of a “global village” coming together in peaceful competition. This is not what attracts a worldwide audience. The world wide audience is attracted to the Olympics by what each viewer can learn about how he or she can achieve success in their own lives. They clearly see what works in the Olympic participants’ lives, which is self-discipline, or what has been called character, or self-government. The elements of this self-government include determination, discipline, work, responsibility, self-control, self-sacrifice, focus, confidence, and trust. Ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats through character development is what speaks to millions throughout the world. Talk to someone who was enthused by some event in the Olympics and you might find a touch of enjoyment from the entertainment and drama, or a bit of appreciation for the competition of winning and losing. But more than that, there almost always will be a stronger awe and appreciation of what it took for the participants to get to that point of accomplished performance. 

This is the story behind the story of the Olympics. Take any other type of event, whether rock climbing, surviving in the wilderness, organizing a group, speaking, making a record number of sales, or even running for public office. The appreciation of a “job well done,” and how the person did it, is an almost universal interest and attraction. The elements that lead to a gold medal in the Olympics apply to any area of life, and the millions watching realize that, at least on some level. The Olympics are an uplifting experience to millions, even if just as passive observers, because the goal setting, the determination, the self-control, the self-discipline, and all the other elements that lead to an Olympic medal can give us clues of how we can succeed in our own lives, whatever our goals. All the stuff of life is there in the Olympics: the temptations, the obstacles, the egos and the manipulations. But still, overriding all that, the Olympics are popular because they give healthy role models to a society desperately needing examples of what succeeds! This all relates to the story of Emotional Growth schools and programs, which are the focus of this newsletter. These are those schools and programs to help children with behavioral/emotional problems learn how to make better decisions. 

The primary purpose of these schools and programs is to help students who are struggling and floundering and making poor, self-destructive decisions learn what can make their own life work. What these schools have found works with these difficult-to-work-with children are the same elements that works for the Olympic participant, as well as for all students and the average person in his/her life. 

If you visit any of these schools, you will hear about discipline, self-control, focus, confidence, trust, and determination, all within a context of setting goals to live a successful life free of crutches such as drugs, manipulation, gangs, and denial. 

No wonder the Olympics speaks to so many people. It reminds us that we hold our future in our own hands, and gives us lessons in how we can mold our own future. This is the lesson we also can learn from the successes of emotional growth schools and programs. 

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