The Olympic Games and the source of National Pride

Published on September 12, 2012

I am not a sports enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination. I am too lazy to play and too impatient to watch. There are, however, a few exceptions. Take for example the Tour de France. I watch is as a kind of inspiration because I keep threatening to take up bicycling as an exercise hobby. However, each year that I watch the event on television, I become just as disgusted with laziness as I did the previous year, but never enough to actually buy a bicycle.

Another reason that I like the tour de France has nothing to do with sports. I simply love to people watch, especially when I can sit and watch cultures other than mine. The Tour then is the lazy person's way of appreciating as many people as possible without having to buy an overseas airplane ticket. Which brings me to the only other sporting event that qualifies as an exception to my sportless life--the Olympic Games.

More than people watching, there is something about watching the best of the world's best exhibit their skills. Without fail, it makes me want to be better at everything that I do. I want to walk faster to the subway, climb the stairs in my house in record time, and maybe, just maybe one day get that bicycle. I only wish for a way that the athletes could exhibit their skills without actually competing against each other.

As strange as that sentiment sounds, I feel like I am on firm ground when I say the Olympic victory serves as a proxy for national superiority. For instance, I have fantasized for years about a long stay in London. For reasons probably more silly than rational, I believe that Great Britain is one of the few other places on the globe that I would like to live. Still, when I saw an Olympic match between a British and American fencer I could not help but cheer for the American. This is true regardless of the nationality of the other athlete. Even if the American enters the contest injured, or falls hopelessly behind in the score, I cheer.

In this sense, I guess you might say that I am people watching in the first person--myself. Why do I behave so irrationally when it concerns this particular sporting event--something which otherwise would not even interest me? This question was recently examined by Astrid Podsiadlowski and Stephen Fox in their paper “Collectivist Value Orientations among Four Ethnic Groups: Collectivism in the New Zealand Context.”1

The researchers describe culture as "a pattern of behaviours and beliefs that sets a group apart from others...the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another.” Additionally, they stated, "In accordance with our predictions, family proved to be the most important social context for all ethnic groups and NZE indicated the least collective preferences in all domains. Interestingly, Pacific Islanders showed the most collective preferences and distinguished the least between family, friends and strangers. The differences between NZE and Maori were smaller, and the similarities between Maori and Chinese were closer than expected. "

I admit that after reading the paper my initial thought was something along the lines of--of course! But, the author's make a convincing case for our need to study intercultural relationships. This is especially relevant today with worldwide civil and ethnic conflicts contributing greatly to the number of people displaced from their homeland. The growing number of trans-national companies owned by citizens of one country, but located in another means that executives must hire and market to cultures other than their own.

In fact, the article inspired so many questions in my mind. How might a trial judge treat " home grown" terrorists different from the "traditional" kind? Would an American citizen of Jewish decent open their home to an Ethiopian-Jewish refugee? If you are a Chinese-American, whom do you hope will dominate the Olympic gold medal count this year--the Americans or Chinese?

If this topic relates to you, I would like to read your comments. Drop me a line. Until next time...KEEP THINKING!


Podsiadlowski, Astrid; Fox, Stephen. “Collectivist Value Orientations among Four Ethnic Groups: Collectivism in the New Zealand Context.” New Zealand Journal of Psychology. Mar2011, Vol. 40 Issue 1, p5-18.

Category(s):Multicultural Concerns

Written by:

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a former U.S. Army (Reserve) Medical Officer, and currently completing his studies as an M.D./PhD/MBA candidate, with a research thesis titled, “Pharmacology and the Neurological Correlates of Consciousness.”