Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Paralympics and Super Humans

During the Olympics, our screens were filled with sportsmen and women pushing their bodies to the limit, and achieving amazing feats of speed, distance and endurance. Perhaps more amazing still are the athletes now gathering to participate in the Paralympic games, who don’t let “disability” or "different ability" to stand in the way of their sporting achievements.

For most of the athletes, their results are a mixture of determination, training, sheer hard work and raw talent honed through years of commitment. It is an inspiration! The pressure consistently placed on them for years for one brief moment, it must be incredibly tempting to use any advantage to give your chances a boost.

Inevitably and sadly, the potential benefits of winning a medal, and that desire for personal and national glory, mean that some may be tempted to resort to non-legitimate ways of gaining advantage over their rivals- performance enhancing drugs, for example. The news during the Tour De France and the Olympics was spattered with accusations (and occasional incidents) of abuse and it tarnished some of the excitement and enthusiasm. It made me sorry for the athletes who work so hard for so long, who give their all to a sport and play fair. It also made me reflect on the pressure we all feel to be "perfect" and the lengths we are tempted to go sometimes to chase that elusive ideal.

Many of us have benefitted from medical technologies which have benefitted our quality of life-  whether that be hip replacements, heart pacemakers or just reading glasses. I'm a diabetic and wear an insulin pump - it has radically enhanced my everyday life, and I am grateful to the science that makes it and things like it possible.

Most of these technologies are currently used in a medical context, to restore us to a normal, healthy state.  However, some people (particularly within the military) would like advocate going a stage further- to begin use technology to give humans abilities which we don’t currently have: for example, infra- red vision, which would allow us to “see in the dark”.

How far down the road of building “better” humans should we contemplate going using technology and medical science? Of course, just being fastest or strongest doesn’t necessarily make us better people. In fact, paradoxically, it is often through our most difficult struggles that we find a deeper strength of character and the presence of God in others who support and sustain us.  Complexity is part of being human and oftentimes what we perceive we as "strength" and "weakness".

Are we beginning to subscribe to an ideology that says " there is one brand of beautiful and we can all be sculpted into shape?" Like the athletes who find that the extraordinary pressure to win leads them to compromise who they are and what they stand for, are we aware of the pressure we place on each other to conform to a model, no matter the cost?  Hopefully the Paralympic athletes will be an example and inspiration to us all, in that pushing ourselves to be the best that we can be is part of what makes us human, but what also makes us human is our beautiful diversity.

Let that be an achievement worth celebrating!

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