GENE ROBERTSON: Olympians inspire focus on positive values

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

As I watched the 2012 Olympics with feelings of marvel, pride and fear, I could not help but think of the part values play in our lives, my feelings about this 2012 Olympic occasion and these fearful times.

I think of the continuum of values that we express. On the high end, there is the late Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who chose to serve his country at a time when he believed it was in crisis, forfeiting a lucrative professional sports contract and the opportunity to play a sport he loved at its highest level.

Along with Tillman is Olympian Gabby Douglas, who could have been just a little girl in the 'hood who was a good gymnast if she and her sister had not reached for the brass ring that would lead to Olympic gold. Also high on the continuum is the Congolese Kinshasa Symphonic Orchestra, including those who envisioned it and participated in it, and South African track star Oscar Pistorius, who would not settle for being an outstanding Paralympic athlete.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention one of my personal role models — Derrick Bell — the Harvard tenured professor who resigned his position to protest the failure of Harvard to hire any female African-American faculty members in its law school. These people exemplify what I call a high expression of our values.

At the other end of the continuum are the people and entities who would mar expressions of unity such as the Olympics. They are the ones who would commit atrocities such as those that we have experienced — the Munich Olympics, the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, the 9/11 attacks and drive-by shootings as well as inappropriate drone strikes. Those who assault and kill innocent people anywhere at any time are at the low end of this continuum.

Values play a significant part in our thinking and our behaviors and therefore deserve our attention.

While there might be some inherent biological reasons for our values, a strong determinant is the nurturing elements we experience throughout our lives. It is important that we understand influences and attempt to positively address them if we can.

Individuals or groups can loosely define values as what is or is not good or valuable. These guidelines are used to assess the importance of an aspect of our experience. Some examples might be acceptance, altruism, allegiance, ambition, citizenship, decency, equality, efficiency, honesty, respect and sacrifice.

How values are induced is important. I advocate that a portion of all job training address values and how they might be positively applied in the conduct of human interaction and responsibility. Prior to this, we need to recognize the training, sharing, creating, modeling and analysis that occurs at home with family, friends and acquaintances.

I can remember my grandfather's pride in illustrating that his word was his bond and that no one was turned away from his table. Also, a young friend told me that if I loved basketball as much as I proclaimed I did, I would give it the respect it deserved instead of "showboating." Church, school and life experiences create, develop and hone our values as well.

We all have a responsibility to induce positive values to each other and especially to our youth. We can model positive thinking and behaviors as the Olympians do. We can weigh all behaviors against some standard such as the golden rule and hold those who destructively fail to adhere to it accountable. We can plant seeds of constructive thinking and behaviors rather than destructive thinking and behaviors. We can recognize the importance of understanding of values in our lives and seek to teach what we know informally as well as formally.

If values are recognized as an element of our lives worthy of attention, we might come a little closer to the world that John Lennon wrote and sang about in "Imagine," which was so beautifully presented in the closing of the 2012 Olympics.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams August 14, 2012 | 7:45 a.m.

"Also, a young friend told me that if I loved basketball as much as I proclaimed I did, I would give it the respect it deserved instead of "showboating.""

As succinctly accurate as I've ever read.

You can tell the difference between an athlete reacting with shear joy versus one saying "Look at ME!"

I relished the reactions of Gabby and Missy, and hurt alongside the young woman in the 1500 who got too close to the runner in front, got clipped, and went down....for the second Olympics in a row. I don't like Usain Bolt at all, the NBA stars even less...and I'm not too keen on Michael Phelps, either...but I think Allyson Felix, Lolo Jones, and Oscar Pistorius are class acts.

I sure hope sports gets the performance-enhancing issue under control. I won't stand for many more Marion Jones or Justin Gatlin or Roger Clemons incidents. I'll find other interests.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 14, 2012 | 11:05 a.m.

Michael, did you see Usain Bolt pausing an interview when an American track medalist (don't recall who) was receiving her medal and the national anthem was playing? He got points for that in my book.

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