By Todd E. Brady
Vice President For University Ministries, Union University, Jackson
Superstar American gymnast Simone Biles’s withdrawal from Olympic competition in this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo caused quite a bit of chatter. Like opinions I am hearing concerning whether to take the COVID-19 vaccine or to not take the COVID-19 vaccine, it seems that opining people are everywhere–from the “Simone-Biles-is-the-greatest-hero-ever-for-mental-health” folks to “Simone-Biles-is-just-a-famous quitter” people. As is always the case, there are three sides to this story. There is your side. There is my side. And there is the truth.
Sure, the world has watched Biles on the global stage, but we need to remember that she is a human being just like the rest of us. I remember when Mary Lou Retton was on a Wheaties box. Simon Biles made it to a Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries box. We may never be on the cover of a cereal box but let us remember that regardless of fame or ability, we all eat our cereal one spoonful at a time. Every. One. Of. Us.
At the end of the day, only Simone Biles herself really knows what she was experiencing in Tokyo. Her close family and friends know more than most of us, but let’s just admit it. Most of us don’t know enough about the situation to speak to it, much less to give any kind of opinion about it. We are not intimately involved in her life. Most of us don’t know the ins and outs of Olympic competition. None of us ever fully knows what is going on in the heart and mind of another person.
God gave us each two ears and one mouth. Maybe we should listen twice as much as we talk. We probably need fewer pundits and prognosticators who rush to judgment and more who do the slower and less glamourous work of listening. Rather than quickly spitting out any half-baked thoughts, perhaps we should do the hard work of keeping our mouths shut, patiently taking things in, and being gracious toward others along the way. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) Talk is cheap. Silence is golden.
Online forums like Facebook and Twitter are places to spout off untested and unproven statements as we amass followers and likes for ourselves. Writing for the Wall Street Journal about social media, adolescence, and mental health, Erica Komisar recently said that social media extends the shallow pursuits of adolescence. She said “Now social media prolongs this period of self-involvement, self-consciousness and insecurity, and teens and young adults often get stuck in a negative feedback loop. The superficial and the approval of others becomes an obsession of adolescents.” While most of us are not teenagers, could it be that we are like hamsters running on wheels of the endless soundtracks of our own voices? To use Komisar’s words, does our own desire to wax eloquently about what might be considered the inadequacies of another person belie our own “self-involvement, self-consciousness and insecurity”?
Sometimes the best thing we can do it not say what we are thinking–especially when we don’t have all the information. And in the case of Simone Biles and her withdrawal from Olympic competition, we don’t have all the information. We may not ever have all the information. Moreover, we are not entitled to have all the information.
Whether we have the information or not, let’s all do the work of thinking the best of others. B&R