Go for the Gold—I mean Teal!

What did the Tokyo Olympics tell us about the state of the teal movement? 

If you answered, “nothing,” you could be forgiven. After all, the Olympic games are a global exercise in more of the competition that dominates life today—while teal consciousness aims to elevate cooperation and human connection.

In fact, the long legacies of doping and other kinds of cheating at the Olympics for the sake of winning and puffing up a country’s national pride reflect some of the worst of the red, amber and orange stages of human development. 

And if self-management were taken seriously by the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, this year’s games would have been cancelled. Amid fears the games could amount to Covid super-spreader event, 8 in 10 Japanese people opposed holding the event, which had been delayed a year because of the pandemic. 

Still, I found myself inspired in teal-y ways by several moments during this summer’s Olympics. Not only did this year’s games showcase awesome human feats that lifted the human spirit, they signaled progress in our collective culture. 

I noticed lessons in these three areas:

–Holism and mental health. Perhaps the biggest story of the Tokyo Olympics was the gymnast Simone Biles bowing out of some events because of mental health challenges. Biles was explicit about needing to get in the right headspace before returning to competition–in part for safety reasons. “I had no idea where I was in the air,” Biles said. “I could have hurt myself.”

The pressures of the pandemic, of a spectator-less Olympics, and of the lingering scandal of sexual abuse that victimized Biles and many other USA gymnasts all appeared to play a role in her withdrawal

Episodes of elite athletes suffering from mental health breakdowns aren’t uncommon—but rarely are they acknowledged and cited for a withdrawal from an event. Things seem to be changing, though. Not long before Biles made headlines with her decision, tennis star Naomi Osaka skipped the French Open to tend to her mental health.

I feared Biles might be blasted by American commentators for her move. Instead, Biles was largely praised for her honesty and vulnerability. Even from some surprising corners, such as Fox News. Call it a win for a more holistic approach to people in performance settings—including workplaces. 

–Cooperation and Kindness. Speaking of winning, I noticed two moments in which the Olympics reminded us that winning isn’t everything. The first involved runners Isaiah Jewett from the USA and Nijel Amos from Botswana. In the 800-meter semifinals race, they got tangled up and tumbled to the ground. 

One could have imagined angry words or worse immediately afterwards from athletes who had trained for years for that moment. Instead, the runners helped each other up, embraced and walked to the finish line together. 

“Regardless of how mad you are, you have to be a hero at the end of the day,” Jewett said. “Because that’s what heroes do, they show their humanity through who they are and show they’re good people.”

–Excellence over domination. The second example of an encouraging perspective on competition came in the men’s high jump. Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi each cleared the height of 2.37 meters, better than all the other competitors. Neither Barshim nor Tamberi succeeded at 2.39 meters, though.

The two men could have continued in a jump-off to determine a single winner. Instead, they chose to share the gold medal. When they made the decision, Tamberi lept into Barshim’s arms and both wept with joy. 

It turns out Barshim and Tamberi had built a close bond over the years, deepened by the fact that both had to overcome injuries to achieve excellence in their sport. 

“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track but outside the track. We work together,” Barshim said of Tamberi. “This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”

The Olympics were moving to me not just because they offered lessons in holism, collaboration and a purpose beyond besting rivals. They were inspiring also because they reinforced examples in the wider world that teal is taking off. 

People are becoming more comfortable speaking out about mental health and overall wellbeing–a trend fueled by the Covid pandemic. We see collaboration over competition prized within organizational cultures. And we see more and more companies seeking not to dominate market share or leave others in the dust so much as accomplish something tremendous and elevate the world along the way.

So yes, the Olympics had its drawbacks this year. But to me the games enabled us all to win. The teal medal goes to humanity, for advances in our collective consciousness.

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