November 7

We’re All in the Special Olympics

November 7, 2012

Stress Management

Years ago I attended a local Special Olympics, where all the athletes had one or more physical or mental disabilities. When the starting pistol signaled the beginning of the hundred-yard dash, the participants responded in a variety of ways. Most of the children ran down the track. A couple of them completely ignored the lane markings, wandering from one lane to the other as they ran into other runners. One child danced in the infield, quite oblivious to the finish line as a goal.

One boy had cerebral palsy (or CP), which is a broad term describing damage of the motor control centers of the developing brain. This often happens during pregnancy or childbirth, resulting in an inability to precisely control muscle movement. People with CP usually move in a spastic, jerky way. They run much like a car would run with square tires.

About twenty yards short of the finish line, the boy with CP, who was dead last, stumbled and fell, burying his hands, knees, and face into the surface of the track. Now, take a guess here: How many people watching from the stands laughed at the mistake of the boy splayed out on the ground? All breathing stopped for an instant. Complete silence persisted until the boy slowly rose from the ground and lurched forward–more slowly now–across the finish line. At that point, the crowd clapped and cheered and wept. You would have thought the kid had just broken a world record at the Olympic Games.

Why would the crowd actually cheer for–not just refrain from laughing at–the young athlete? Because everyone knew he was doing his best, and they admired his courage in overcoming great difficulty.

In real life, however, when people make mistakes, often we become impatient, critical, disappointed, irritated, and even rude. We fail to recognize that nearly everyone around us is just as wounded emotionally as the boy with CP was affected by his brain dysfunction. People who are empty and afraid are impaired in nearly everything they do. Their wounds are invisible so we tend not to cheer them on when they stumble and fall. We make the assumption that they could do better, but somehow they just didn't or wouldn't.

Emotionally speaking, we all have cerebral palsy. We're all in the Special Olympics, and we're doing the best we can with the broad array of disabilities we have. They were mostly acquired in childhood through no fault of our own. The world would be a more peaceful and happier place if we understood our disabilities and refrained from laughing or criticizing each other when we fell at life's ongoing Special Olympics.

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