FOR a nation that is supposed to be bitter and cynical, there is
a nagging question in the air: why have the London Olympics and the
Paralympics made us feel so good?
These Games have seized us in a way that no one expected. Wasn't
the whole thing meant to be a disaster from beginning to end? In
the build-up, the press permitted only negative stories, and, back
in May, some east-London clerics were told by an official
doom-monger: "For the duration of the Olympics, make no plans to
travel anywhere; be prepared for Christian funerals to be
suspended, and mobiles will probably crash."
But the truth was rather different. London roads were quieter
than ever, mobiles were fine, and wonderful hosting left the Games
rated a great, if expensive, success. The large medal haul for
Britain simply added to the celebrations - and why not?
Remarkable achievements have littered our screens this summer,
both on the track and behind the scenes. And, as the opening and
closing ceremonies revealed, we may have lost our empire, but we
still have our humour, and our music. A decent exchange, many would
But is this the whole story of our feel-good Games? Or have they
also become an unexpected parable of psychological health?
The integration of psychology and spirituality, of reality and
aspiration, is a slow journey; a cheerful marathon rather than a
frenetic sprint. And, along the way, as in the hurdles, pole vault,
or rowing, there is no journey that is free of failure and pain. We
face our challenges in life as best we can, while accepting our
limitations as humans. Rebecca Adlington was not worse in London
than in Beijing: it's just that others were better. Hard work was
helped by luck in China; but the same hard work without luck in
London meant disappointment.
And so we accept certain things as a given: we accept, along
with the athletes, that we cannot eliminate suffering; that we
cannot experience all there is to experience; that we must limit
ourselves to certain events; and that every choice we make is also
a loss of something. Train to win the 10,000 metres, and you will
have to say goodbye to your family for a while. That's a lot of
"Integration means a life that is constructed as much around
defeat and hurt as around attainment and joy," writes the
psychologist Kenneth Pargament. And perhaps this is why living the
Olympics and Paralympics has been so healing. In the stadium, as in
our lives, defeat and hurt jostle with attainment and joy, all part
of the whole. How could anyone win without someone else losing? For
Jessica Ennis to have her hour, others had to forgo theirs.
And we must somehow allow it all, aware that nothing puts out
our inner fire. Throughout the Games, nothing puts out the Olympic
flame; and nothing can extinguish yours.