Have you caught Olympic Fever?

22 02 2010

Olympic Fever

We all interpret events through the prism of our own “world view”. That means that given the same input, different people perceive things differently. A powerful natural experiment occurred on 911. Because every TV station in the world broadcast that event over and over for the next few days, it would be fair to say that it was a global experience. So, given that there were hundreds of thousand of people who were directly affected and billions more who experienced that trauma indirectly, you would think that the incidence of post-traumatic distress would be highest in those who were directly traumatized and would drop off the further away one was from the trauma. But that’s not what happened.

The incidence of post-traumatic distress was highest in anxious people, regardless of how close or how directly or indirectly they experienced the event.

So, let’s talk Olympics. Yesterday, I took my 6-year-old daughter to the Norway vs. Switzerland, men’s hockey game. And, over the last two weeks I have observed a huge range of people’s response to this global experience. There are people who rail against even the concept of the Olympics; people who are indifferent; and people who are completely committed to them. My premise is that your response to the Olympics has nothing to do with the Olympics per se. But it says a lot about your ‘world view’.

For the sake of argument, let’s say there is a gene for “party”. In which case, there are broadly-speaking three categories:

There are people who are homozygous (they have a copy of the party gene from their mother and a copy from their father. These people are hard-core party people. They put the fan in “fanatic”. They have caught the party bug to the point that you could call it “party-fever”. These are the people who paint their whole upper-body with the Canadian flag or come to Olympic events in full costume. These are the people who pay $1000 or more for a hockey ticket, no questions asked.

Then there are people who are heterozygous for party. They likely have one party-philic parent and one party-phobic parent. These people dreaded the Olympics in December and January. They may not have protested against them, but they strongly sympathized with the cause of the protesters. “Why should be take money away from healthcare and education so that we can indulge in a big wasteful party?” But, once mid February came along, and the Canadians started winning medals, and there was a spontaneous outpouring of National Pride, they caught the Olympic bug… and from then on they could be found downtown singing the national anthem, high-fiving complete strangers and waving the red Maple Leaf. They were glued to TV sets in bars, and hosting their own Olympic-themed parties at home.

Then, there are the party-phobes. They have not inherited any party genes. Or, you could say they have two copies of the “stick in the mud” gene. They focus on the negatives: They are upset that money spent on the Olympics could have been spent elsewhere; They are offended that Olympic sponsors have dominated the media-scape; They shamelessly criticize any athlete who did not live up to the public’s expectation. They say things like, we choked; we should have won. They trumpet Olympics gaffes, from the inconvenient to the fatal; They have a need to assign blame to all negative outcomes, even the weather. They see Olympic fever as ’empty nationalism’. Looking back, you may wonder, who do they represent?

Here is a quote from one such person.

“The Olympics long ceased to be interesting and long ago quit being an expression of the human spirit. Stronger, higher, faster, has been replaced by money, corruption, fraud, professionalism, drugs and mindless nationalism – not to mention the truly insidious notion of rewarding fascist states with this money producing extravaganza. The games are both expressions of mindless statism, and emotionally empty nationalism and little else. Time to end them.”

I guess the desired take-home point would be: None of these perspectives is either right or wrong.  They just are. They represent the spectrum of perceptions that people can legitimately have, regarding this global event. There is no ‘truth’, but rather a spectrum of perceptions. Everyone has a right to their perception, and there is certainly some truth to each point of view. But what occurred to me was that the media, at least initially, thought they were speaking for the masses. But I think the masses spoke and said, quite emphatically, the opposite. “This is what nationalism is all about. There is nothing empty about it!” and (to borrow a phrase from poker) we’re ‘all in’.

The media were taken by surprise. The big story of this totally controlled and overly scripted event was entirely uncontrolled and unscripted. The story was not about the Olympics or the athletes or the medals. It wasn’t about the weather or the Olympic flame or the Luge track. The story was the people. The boring, grumpy, self-absorbed, indifferent citizens of Vancouver had caught the party bug and it was spreading faster than the swine flu.

I am going to speculate, based on my experiences talking to people about the Olympics so far, that the breadth of world views is like the breadth of mental health. You can group the factors that affect your world view into three broad categories:

The first is “genetics”. If your parents were highly social, gregarious, out-going people, there is a good chance that you inherited some of those traits.

The second force is what I would call, “experiences”. We know that your environment can affect your world view quite powerfully. Experiences can actually turn genes on or off. This is what we call epi-genetics. It means that if you have a vulnerability to anxiety and you experience some traumatic or adverse events in your youth, there is a greater chance that you will express some anxious traits, compared to an equally genetically vulnerable person, who did not experience traumatic events. On the other hand, if you were raised in a family that experienced the joy and unity associated with social interaction, you are more likely to see a party as a necessary and useful event, rather than a waste of time and money.

The third force includes all the day-to-day factors that affect your world view: amount of sleep, diet, exercise, hormones, the weather, what is happening at work, at home, whether you recently fell in love or won the lottery, etc. So, physiology permitting you are more likely to: be motivated to party; be able to enjoy the party; be able to sustain the party; and be able to look back on the party with fond memories.

So, that suggest that:

  • every person’s party view is like a snow-flake, i.e., unique
  • everybody comes by their party view honestly
  • these views are subject to change without notice

It also supports the age old saying, ‘You should not judge someone’s world view or their party view, unless you know their whole story, i.e., you have walked a few hundred miles in their shoes.

The reason I bring this up, is that understanding the concept of ‘world view’ has been quite helpful to me as an addictions doctor…. And, it might help you too if you are struggling with what seems like and unsolvable problem. It is my considered opinion that you can’t solve a problem, help someone, or change something if you start with a judgement.

Sorry, it has taken me so long to finally finish this post, but I was too busy enjoying the Olympics. Since then, I have been nursing a bit of a post-Olympics social hangover, and then I had to catch up on all the work that I didn’t do as a result of the above. But it was a heck of a good time and I’m glad I was there to experience it. Go Canada Go. Nice work, Crosby.


Dr. Anthony Ocana MSc, MD, CCFP, ABAM               Special Interest in Mental Health and Addiction                NorthShore ADHD Clinic               http://www.northshoreadhd.com