When do we choose ourselves and when do we choose the needs of others? I watched Simone Biles eyes wobble as she landed poorly on her vault routine at the Olympics before she made the decision that caused the world to pause and flood social media with their pro and con opinions. Due to “mental health” concerns, Biles took a “step back” and laid low for a few days to collect herself. As the best gymnast in the world, she faced global pressure to become a gold medalist again, but she listened to her body and took a break. By contrast, in 1989 a Russian gymnast injured her leg but was forced by her coach to return to competition before her leg had fully healed. Due to her wobbly leg, she landed poorly, snapped her neck and became a quadriplegic at age 20. She was not allowed to listen to her body and choose herself.
Biles chose to put herself first, which reinforced the importance of sometimes choosing self over the needs of the group. But choosing self can sometimes be bad. For instance, we need herd immunity to defeat the coronavirus and we can’t get that when 30% of people put their needs above the needs of the larger group. These folks cling to fears, like that the vaccine inserts a chip, or that there are unknown effects in the body. And it is true, we cannot know the effects over time. Some still see Covid as a hoax, even though a part of them knows that people are again filling hospitals and dying. But the way fear works is that it hijacks the thinking brain, creates blinders to what we do not wish to see, and can allow distorted ideas to dominate over realistic, scientifically proven facts. And the facts will not convince those who are threatened by them.
The Delta variant sees this weakness in humanity and slips in through maskless airways and spreads like wildfire. My brother and his wife, who are nurses sighed, “We just had our first Covid death last night and we are back to full PPE protocol.” I could feel the heavy sadness in their voices. Fear is rising in hospitals as they brace for a new onslaught of Covid cases. An even newer mutation called the “Delta variant plus” has popped its head out of the ground and is searching for new routes to defeat the immune systems of humans. The good news is that even though vaccinated people have tested positive for the variant, they have milder cases. This reinforces the need for vaccinations. Even some previously reluctant conservative politicians are getting vaccinated.
I have images in my head that linger from the Olympics, though the games have closed in Japan. I watched Biles stay and cheer her teammates during her break. Basketball veteran Sue Bird championed equity and fair representation for athletes. In the heat of the final high jump trial, Qatar’s Barshim and Italy’s Tamberi were neck in neck. Both failed the highest jump. The judges walked onto the floor and consulted with the two jumpers. “You are tied for first place. What do you want to do?” One athlete asked, “What can we do?” The judge said, “You can have a jump-off.” The athletes nodded, then Barshim leaned forward and asked the judge, “Can we share the gold?” The judges looked at each other and shrugged, “Yes, you can.” My jaw dropped. The athletes jumped into each other’s arms to hug, then the stadium and the world watching exploded in joy. I looked over to see my husband crying. The Italian athlete fell to his knees, rolled onto his back, then writhed on the floor overwhelmed with gratitude, and weeped openly.
You choose to share the gold when you play as part of a team, including stepping aside like Simone Biles did, when she felt her poor performance was holding her team back. You share the gold when you step up and defend gender, race and pay equity, like basketball’s Sue Bird. You share the gold when you step together and decide two of you can take first place. And in a larger context, you share the gold when you step back and see the bigger picture beyond your individual fears or that of your tribe and choose to cooperate with a world battling to defeat an unseen virus.