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Trump is in denial about Coronavirus and appears to be creating social division in America, the Brazilian president lies about the fires in the Amazon and their environmental effect and Putin is poisoning his high-profile critics, though he refuses to admit it. Just another week in the world in which we live.
I get depressed if I look too closely at the global political and commercial landscape and the action of leaders whose behaviours seem more characterised by lying, denying and game playing than anything benevolent. How have we lost our way where politicians are in the pockets of business and business leaders are taking and exploiting whatever they can at the expense of everyone else? It seems everyone is in it for themselves while presenting themselves as being something else. When did we start to be so greedy that all that is important is what you get, be it power, wealth, or status? Where is the conscience, where is the moral compass and the sense of right? Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel and just playing the game of looting and pillaging like many others. Thing is, though, like many, I won’t!
But before I sound too sanctimonious (because that’s not the purpose of this) I want to recount a time I remember in my late teens. Having been out drinking one night I wandered into a 24-hour store with a group of mates and, for a reason still unknown to me today, I stole a pair of sunglasses. I didn’t need sunglasses, nor had I gone into the store to buy any, but an opportunity to steal appeared and fuelled by bravado from alcohol, I did. Shortly after I was consumed with regret for my actions and all I could think of was how disappointed my parents would be. I had got away scot-free, but I was inconsolable (enhanced again by the alcohol) and so I did the second most honourable thing and got my mate to return them with an apology to the store owner for my mistake. I still had not been man enough to own it fully, but I certainly owned the shame and guilt afterwards. True story.
I can’t say that during my lifetime I have never taken something I didn’t deserve or that wasn’t mine, but I can tell you that, that feeling of having acted shamelessly has never left me. There is something inside me - and most of us I think - which doesn’t sit well when I act selfishly or unfairly win when others lose. Sometimes that thinking may get in the way of opportunities but for the most part I am satisfied with this internal barometer of my character that acts as a check and helps me to be better than I might be. I am disillusioned when I don’t see it in others and can’t help thinking and knowing how much better the world would be if we thought more about our actions viewed from the collective as opposed to the individual.
I was encouraged this week when I heard of Spanish tri-athlete Diego Méntrida who stopped at the finish line to let his competitor pass him and take the bronze medal position. The story is (but you can watch it yourself on YouTube) that he was trailing British athlete James Teagle at the final stretch of the 2020 Santander Triathlon in Barcelona, when Teagle mistook the course direction, allowing Méntrida to overtake him just metres from the finish line. Teagle had thrown his hands out in exasperation as Méntrida overtook him but when Méntrida looked back and noticed Teagle's mistake, he suddenly stopped just before the finish to allow his opponent through. The two men shook hands as he let Teagle take the third-place Bronze medal.
Méntrida has been praised for his sportsmanship, an act too rarely seen today. Giving up a medal, podium position and 3rd place prize money was a big deal when he could have easily stolen the win. In fact, no one would have thought anything of it - people are pipped at the literal and figurative post all the time and in many ways its first across the line that counts, not how you get there. If you believe in Karma then it was at play that day as not only has the young Spanish triathlete become the new, international poster boy for sportsmanship and character, but the race organisers decided to award him equal 3rd place prize money too, to recognise his commendable behaviour.
Later on, Instagram Méntrida said ‘He (Teagle) deserved it’ and “This is something my parents and my club taught me since I was a child. In my view it should be a normal thing to do.” That may sound unusual up against sayings like...’you snooze you lose’, ‘to the victor, the spoils’, ‘the end justifies the means’, ‘you get what you take’....all idioms with a Machiavellian undertone that speaks to getting ahead, regardless of the costs. ‘It’s a dog eat dog world’, ‘eat or be eaten’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ are all others which come to mind and leave me feeling cold. But I fear that’s where we are today and what we have become.
It may be too late for this generation of leaders who behaves in a certain way and we seemingly sanction it. Perhaps in future more will be expected, more Méntrida- type behaviour than that of Trump or Putin. This will happen only if these are the values we demand, revere, and expect. It is what we must teach our children - not an empirical-style, “Veni, vidi, vici” exploitative approach so indicative of our past but families that care for each other, work environments where owners and workers both benefit and leaders who serve and don’t take. Selfless souls like Méntrida who chose to ‘be the better man’, to ‘play the game’, to honour the unwritten code of chivalry and to do the far, far better thing that most others have never done.
Or am I simply wearing rose-tined spectacles stolen from a store? If so, it must have been selling antiques….