The Common Good

#SochiProblems: Hey, Let's Laugh About How Other People Actually Live

Like everyone else, I’m addicted to the Twitter photos, Facebook posts, and litany of other social media feeds that are exposing Sochi’s unappealing shortcomings — but am I being fair?

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It’s easy for me to forget that I live in one of the richest and privileged countries in the world, and although I consider myself a blue-collar employee working hard to make a living — I’m a citizen of one of the wealthiest and exclusive populations in existence.

I own a car (and a minivan), I have a house (with heating and central air), I buy a cup of coffee every morning, and spend lots of free time watching Netflix on my TV (a modest flat screen). These are just a few of the “normal” things that are luxuries I continually take for granted.

While much of humanity is engulfed in poverty, famine, war, and struggling to develop their society and better themselves — or just simply trying to survive — I’m complaining about the connection speed on my laptop (I may have to use my tablet instead).

Yes, the Olympics spent A LOT of money to create a party-like atmosphere filled with the comforts of Westernized society, but in many ways I’ve become a victim of my own comfort — accustomed to my ethnocentric American lifestyle.

I’m used to clean bathrooms, functional sewer systems, spectacular hotels, and glitzy restaurants — but much of the world isn’t. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a bubble detached from the reality of the rest of the world.

It’s easy to laugh at how others live, especially when we don’t have to face the same struggles. We assume our wealth and standard of living actually make us better — we become elitist and exhibit a superior sense of self-righteousness.

I laugh along at the steady stream of Olympic mishaps that are being publicly displayed across the Internet, and it’s entertaining to compare the conditions in Russia to our cultural norms. But in reality, the same images that we derisively mock are the ones that millions of people are envying wishing they could experience such lavish accommodations.

As Americans, we like to imagine ourselves as cultured, intelligent, and tolerant, but we easily forget — and ignore — what the it looks like for people living beyond our country’s borders (we even ignore those who live within them!).

The Olympics are a time when we throw around clichés like “sports unify the world” and “this is where everyone comes together,” but we subconsciously desire the world to look like ours — with all the comforts we’re used to.

Thus, living in subpar conditions and using substandard facilities seems appalling, unbelievable, absurd, and even offensive! How could this happen?! You’ve had months to prepare for us!

Questions will surely be asked about corruption, mismanagement, and preparation failures. The Olympic Committee will review the massive amount of feedback regarding these Winter Games and try to correct them for the future, but in the meantime all of the good, bad, ugly, and sheer horrendous things we see ultimately reflect much of the real world we live in but hardly ever see or experience — it’s the world others live in, in far off places, with far off stories, that maybe one day we’ll ultimately care enough to pay attention to.

Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective,and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

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