Every four years we get pumped up about the Olympics. Whether your preference is summer’s swimming and gymnastics events or Winter Games bobsled or speed skating, if we think about it, we may recognize that it’s really about more than the sheer athletic competition.
It’s about the story behind it.
NBC, the network airing the games in primetime, realizes this and gives us what we really want – the athletes’ stories. Intermixed among the events themselves, NBC reporters narrate the lives of select Olympians, giving us a reason to cheer harder when we see them on the starting block ready to anchor their relay team to victory by slimmer margins than the blink of an eye or feel their agony as they are shut out by razor-thin margins, as American gymnast Jordyn Wieber was just days ago in her quest to be named the world’s best all-around gymnast.
The life experiences that made them the athletes we see on the diving platforms or the sandy beach volleyball courts are more important than just a single performance every four years. We learn to care about the young swimmer whose grandfather was an Olympic level swimmer, who just before he was to compete in his own Olympic trials became sick and was never able to realize his dream. That same swimmer’s father, also a swimmer, e-mailed his son and told him he could fulfill his grandfather’s legacy.
Television drama can’t top these stories.
Or what about the Olympic gymnast who moved away from home at an early age, so she could be coached by the best in her sport, leaving behind her family, who struggled financially to support her dream?
Like Olympians, we are more than the jobs we hold and the weather we experience, yet who would deny those are the first two questions we typically ask the people we find ourselves seated beside at a wedding or our kids’ sports functions?
We all have stories. Like the AMC network, whose slogan “Story Matters Here” encourages us to really understand that a movie is more than what can be blown up in the shortest amount of time, life, like television, movies or the Olympics, is about the person behind it. A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.
To find out a person’s story, you have to find out what they want or have wanted in life, what they endured to get it, what celebrations they have experienced and, sometimes, the deepest despair they have overcome.
We all have stories. They make us who we are. Change us. Make us better or worse.
Everyone has a story. And what people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood.
So the next time you find yourself asking, “What do you do?” why not instead ask, “What’s the most important thing to you?” or “What have you overcome to get where you are today?”, “What makes you happy?”, or “What do you hope for - for yourself and your family?”
The answers to these questions are so much more interesting than, “It sure is hot today isn’t it?”
You’ll be amazed that most people don’t really care about money or prestige. They care about love, about weddings and funerals, about children, about dignity, and integrity.
So the next time you are at a wedding or a party, don’t settle for answers like, “I work at Jasper Elementary School or Community Bank.” Everybody has a story. Everybody is a story. Find it.