Few things are more exhilarating than the feeling that we’re part of something shared and meaningful: holding our partner extra close while watching a scene from This Is Us . . . cheering as our team wins the Super Bowl . . . breaking bread with beloved family members after many years apart . . . or seeing athletes we’ve been rooting for win Olympic gold medals. These experiences lift us up and open and soften our hearts.
On the other hand, few things are more disheartening and disconcerting than being alone and disconnected. Having no one and being left behind leaves us feeling sad, unworthy, and afloat in the middle of nowhere. There’s no doubt that the world becomes a better, kinder, safer place when people feel they belong—and are shown that they matter. So, at a time when the world needs a heavy dose of peace and understanding to counterbalance destabilizing political warfare and the increasing threat of nuclear war, perhaps each of us can do something constructive by broadening our worldview.
Going from feeling isolated to being a part of something can take many years. And some attitudes never change, leaving people out in the cold for generations. But a shift in perspective can occur in a matter of moments. We can, for example, watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics and focus only on the athletes of our nation and their adversaries. I call this a “narrow focus.” Or, we could broaden our focus and see the bigger picture of what is happening in Pyeongchang. Young ambassadors from around the world will engage in proud and peaceful competition. They will be changed forever by their Olympic experience and, if history repeats itself, their nationalistic “Us vs. Them” worldview will be changed to a more expansive and transcendent “Us and Them” one. Our hearts will also be softened, if not melted, by hearing the inspiring stories of how talented young men and women from around the world earned their way onto the world stage.
As Americans, we’ll naturally want our athletes to do their best at these Olympics. But let’s also consider seeing the world from a more compassionate, inclusive “Us and Them” perspective as we watch these games. Cultivating a feeling of togetherness rather than a separateness, embracing those from other countries as members of the human family—as parts of us—and cheering them on too, shows our warm spirit and open-heartedness. Perhaps we can forge the all-too-elusive peace and understanding that our nation and world so desperately needs by taking more of a “This is us!” perspective.