Nitsuh Abebe's Honest Assessment

Joy of the Day 7/365: Radical honesty.

Deep in the New York Times' recent Olympics Issue, Nitsuh Abebe writes about Abebe Bikila, the shoeless Ethiopian marathoner who won gold in a Summer Games in 1960. Towards the end of the piece, he shifts focus to his impression of the entire Olympic enterprise:

"It’s hard, these days, for me to picture the Olympics as anything other than a massive and very expensive science experiment, in which a handful of overcompetitive first-world states with spare resources to invest in medal production filter their talented young athletes into research-driven training programs and qualifying competitions, optimizing as many facets as possible of their training, diet, gear, psychology, supplements and elaborate methods of cheating. This isn’t a test of human potential or athletic drive; it’s a test of corporate-organizational prowess, a way for entire nations to play with their citizenry the way kids play with favorite action figures."

Halfway through that paragraph, I thought, Whoa, what a killjoy.

In the first sentence of the very next paragraph, the writer calls himself a killjoy. (Great.) But even before I got there, I thought of a corresponding point: there's a certain joyfulness in being totally honest, or hearing someone else be that honest -- subjectively hinging on the sense that the speaker is right, I suppose, but sometimes good even when one disagrees. There's a certain joy that would eventually be lacking if we didn't have this kind of clarity, if we just marched in coldly mechanistic lockstep away from emotional authenticity.

Even in being a killjoy, there's a certain preservation of the potential for real joy.

So right on, Nitsuh Abebe. You win.