Olivia Newport compassion posterThe games have been over for a whole day as I write, and at least a week by the time you read. Already athletes are talking about Rio. I perk up slightly at the idea of Olympics in Rio because of family connections to the city, and I’m sure I’ll watch my share of races and dives and leaps and blocks.

I got in the pool at the gym this morning and that got my brain going. I am no athlete, and not much of a competitor. For me, both body and spirit are happier with regular movement incorporated into my days. That’s why I was in the pool, not to prove anything.

But here’s where my brain went. Two points.

1. Perhaps if I were an athlete I would feel a stronger affinity for “go for the gold” mentality and understand the anguish of silver and the footnote nature of bronze. Instead, my heart aches for athletes who win silver in the prestigious, international, the-world-is-watching, best-of the planet competition, and yet their overwhelming emotion is one of loss. Something seems inside out to me.

2. Olympic athletes train for years—lifetimes—for that moment on the balance beam or on the track. Their bodies are muscular, sculpted, competitive in every cell. Their focus is intense and unrelenting. Even the athletes who know they don’t have a chance at the platform give their very best, and that’s far more than the rest of us could muster. Even the ones who have a bad day are immeasurably more physically fit that I will ever be. Or ever wanted to be.

And I find myself wondering what the world could be like if we thought of basic virtues that way. What if we aimed our whole lives at being the kindest people we could be? The most generous? The most compassionate? The most forgiving? Even if we each just chose one virtue event to focus on we would find ourselves better people.

This would not be a competition, of course, but a challenge to give our personal best to be something we’ve decided we want to be.

The Virtue Olympics. Who’s game?