To be honest, I did something routine during my non-vacation through July until mid-August. I was incredibly active, at least mentally. I watched the Tour de France and the Olympics, both of which are well suited for complete engagement, especially for what one can gain by being “involved.” At least my goal was to be more involved than a couch potato would normally be, which means observing not just seeing. So what did I observe?
July – Tour de France
What better way to take another European vacation while not leaving the comfort of air conditioning but still getting a hefty dose of Vitamin C’s: cycling, countryside, cathedrals, crowds (and some stupid behavior), commentators (love ‘em all), and cows. That’s what I learned by observing and listening – there is a very sizeable audience contingent that watches the Tour just to see the different types of cows …
August – The Olympics
Off to an – interesting – start? Opening ceremonies with the Queen supposedly arriving at the stadium by paragliding from a helicopter with 007, but actually entering the stadium before she landed outside. Well, timing was never a strong point for Heads of State. And then dancing doctors and nurses with 1950s-era beds and a 50-foot inflated baby honoring the National Health Service, followed in short order by nightmares. Not sure what I learned here. Conan O’Brian tweeted about the opening ceremonies, “Hard to believe my ancestors were conquered by theirs.”
Rowing – besides events for one, two, four and eight rowers, there are events for one, two, and four rowers using single headed paddles or double headed paddles (multiply events by two), and sitting and kneeling (multiply by two again). But while all this was going on, what caught my attention was – what were all those bicyclists doing in the background? Were they spectators who snuck into the park to see the race? Or who couldn’t afford seats in the grandstand? Or who paid extra not to be in the grandstand? And the bicycles, all white granny bikes. Were these the remnant of the famous tens-of-thousands of “Use One – Leave One” free bikes provided by the city of Amsterdam in the 80s that disappeared overnight? No, finally I learned that they are coaches, but no one explained what they were doing. Are they videotaping with cameras in their backpacks (how do they focus and zoom?) Are they talking by radio to the racers (how do they not crash?) And the SkyCam. The course is 2km long. How is this suspended so that it doesn’t whack a rower at midrace? This would be an interesting “factoid” to know.
Judo – Since a US athlete won a gold medal, we got to see more of this. What I learned was, after watching my eldest son wrestle through junior and senior high school, Judo is basically wrestling in bathrobes.
Gymnastics – Always beautiful to watch, but disappointing this year for two reasons.
First, disappointment with the TV coverage. They would show the scores for the competitors building up to a tense “(s)he must score XX.XXX to win,” followed by shots of two tense competitors watching the scoreboard, followed by “(s)he did it!,” head shot of joyous competitor, head shot of dejected competitor, wide shot of cheering audience, but they didn’t show the SCORE! At least 5 times this happened. Remember, we will always suffer from missing or incomplete information; it’s just very frustrating when someone has it but refuses to provide it.
Second, disappointment for the gymnasts, especially the US ones. So many misses, falls, and steps out-of-bounds in one Olympics. Such high expectations, when an expected “sure thing” as a gold medal in the women’s vault is lost because McKayla Maroney missed her landing. She didn’t “stick” it, she sat it – her feet came out from under her, something one never expects to see in major matches. It just confirms, no matter how good you are and no matter how well prepared you are – SIT HAPPENS. It’s what you do next that really matters. Performance depends upon skill, talent, and preparation. Response depends upon character – after all, crisis doesn’t develop character, it reveals it. And every gymnast showed character.
Volleyball – love it, played it. But TV coverage left out some of the most critical aspects:
Indoor Volleyball – I really missed seeing the synchronized court sweepers. Real talent there.
Beach Volleyball – Cheerleaders? A barker for an announcer? Constant noise. Certainly not Wimbledon.
Track and Field – Love it, ran it; marvelous, all of it. Best of all, however, was the answer to “How do you return the javelins, discuses, hammers, and shots back to the athletes?” By a remote controlled MINI Cooper – two actually. Superb product placement. And inspiring was watching Oscar Pistorius (“Blade Runner”) compete on prosthetics.
Synchronized Swimming – sorry. Seems more like a combination of swimming, cheerleading, gymnastics, and Las Vegas show girls. Too much make-up.
Closing Ceremony – Not sure what to expect here, as it’s only 3:00 pm East Coast time on Sunday as I write this. Perhaps a paean to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, with dancing accountants and a 50 foot inflated adding machine. (Note from Monday morning: nope, no inflated adding machines. However, Eric Idle did suffer an apparent vocal chord malfunction.)
TV/DVR Remote – having set our DVR to record both NBC and NBC Sports channels, I have been forced to finally learn a second level of button function on the remote. Who says the Olympics can’t be useful.
Out of all this fun should come something more useful than just better understanding of a TV remote. One can look at what is going on around you and actually not see anything, whether it’s TV or work or life. What matters more is that we understand Fundamental Principle 8. First is the difference and significance of seeing versus observing:
8a: Seeing is a physiological function. Observing is a choice.
Similarly with the second part, hearing. Ever been at a social gathering with multiple conversations going on simultaneously. You can be following one conversation and hear a fragment of a phrase elsewhere and your brain suddenly switches focus onto the other conversation. The sounds haven’t changed, your focus has:
8b: Hearing is a physiological function. Listening is a choice.
This should not be new. Thousands of years ago it was recognized and pointed out in the Scriptures, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Jeremiah 5:21; Matthew 11:15). Somehow, we just keep forgetting. Or not choosing.
Like the Olympic gymnast, practice and preparation get you ready, and observation and listening get you missing information. But while no amount of preparation can prevent “Sit” from happening, you can be vigilant by observing, listening and learning, and then prevent, sidestep, or fix many issues in life and work. And when “Sit Happens,” just remember that it’s your character in your response that others are observing next.
Yogi Berra got it right when he said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Of course, there are few who believe that he got that he got it …
And finally, did you ever consider what happens if you slack off on observing and listening?