25 January 2019

Special, always and forever!

The term ‘special people’ is often used in a cynical way, usually referring to those who are ‘more equal than others’ (to borrow from George Orwell), privileged people who get special treatment. Happens everywhere. Happens in sports too. It’s sometimes (and even ‘often’) about who is who, who knows who and who has the money. 

This however is not about such people. And yet it is about inequality and perceptions of being superior. It’s an old story but one which is worth repeating. 

It happened in March 2017.  It involved Arnold Schwarzenegger, who for most people is an action-film superstar. He rose to stardom in the 1982 blockbuster ‘Conan the Barbarian’. Born in Austria, Arnold went on to be a highly recognizable public figure in the USA. He was a professional bodybuilder and powerlifter, an actor, filmmaker, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist and a politician who served two terms as the Governor of California from 2003 to 2011.  

The positions he has taken politically are controversial, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about a Facebook post, a comment and a come-back.  

Arnold shared a video he took with the medalists at the 2017 Special Olympics. Someone responded that the ‘Special Olympics make no sense.’ He argued that games (in general) exist to ‘determine who is the best.’.  It is a defensible contention. What made it a sick observation is that he used a derogatory word to refer to athletes taking part in the Special Olympics.  

Here’s an excerpt from Arnold’s response:

“Right now, I guarantee you that these athletes have more courage, compassion, brains, skill — actually more of every positive human quality than you. So take their path -- you could learn from them, and try to challenge yourself, to give back, to add something from the world. Or you can stay on your path, and keep being a sad, pitiful, jealous internet troll who adds nothing to the world but mocks anyone who does out of small-minded jealousy. I know what you really want is attention, so let me be clear: if you choose to keep going this way, no one will ever remember you.”

Reading a re-post of this recently took me to a sports meet I attended a year ago. I went as a parent, but I found myself getting caught up in the ‘competitiveness’ of the whole thing. One event, however, put everything in perspective.  

It was an obstacle relay. There were special needs kids and non special needs kids. They didn’t compete against each other, but were mixed up. No one really cared who won or lost. The non special needs kids had volunteered to take part in the race. Everyone, to me and probably to everyone else who was there, was special. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger was right. Take any special athlete and he or she probably has more courage, compassion, brains, skill and actually more of every positive human quality than you or I. It’s about being able to be the best you can be, being respectful of difference, rising above circumstances. It’s about being human. 

Sounds simple. So tough to practice.


malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com