Olympics and TED conference

April 2, 2010 | Neeru Khosla

I had a very grueling yet exhilarating experience.  First, I was at the “Olympics for the mind” – The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference – followed by a week of Winter Olympics Games for the soul in Vancouver. Never assume that the audience is “just watching.”  It is quite hard work to attend these events.

These two events represent a strange but widely accepted truth.  There is a difference in striving to be your best in sports vs. striving to be the best in intellectual abilities.

During the Winter Olympics, I saw a very contagious spirit.  Those Canadians sure are a kind and welcoming group, and they sure know how to party.  Their  celebratory spirit acknowledged and embraced the hard work put into the performances of the athletes.  The whole place reverbrated when someone performed well.  It is a testament to the human spirit.  The athletes are admired for their accomplishments.  The accolades, award ceremonies, media coverage, and the big dollar endorsements – celebrate the athlete.  Hundreds of thousands attended, with many more millions interested and watched these terrific feats real time on TV or on the web.

TED on the other hand, holds a very different atmosphere 3 1/2 days of people shared their work, creativity, accomplishments, hardships, and their dreams for humanity.  From Al Gore to Bill Gates to Jamie Oliver – all of whom want to impact humanity in some way while applying their intellectual abilities.  These speakers are equally as awesome as the athletes in the Olympics, as both groups are examples of dedication, hard work, and pure excellence.  Yet the numbers of people who celebrate and appreciate the accomplishments of the TED celebs are far fewer than ones celebrating the Olympics athletes.  Why?

Why do we celebrate the athletes?  Why do we not openly celebrate and embrace intellectualism?  Is developing the muscle more valuable than developing the brain?  Intellectualism feels like elitism, yet sports do not.  In reality, sports are also an “exclusive club.”  Many people work all their lives trying to be the best in their sport.  Only a few make it to the coveted famed level.  One persons intellectual abilites do not diminish the intellectual abilities of others or should even be perceived as such.

Let me give you an example, two of my children ski competitively.  Whenever I am around them and their fellow skiers.  I cannot help but feel the atmosphere of free abandon.  They “enjoy” their passion.  Watching a three or four year old youngster, new to skiing, go up the ” carpet” so that they can ski down, it occured to me that the parents who push these young ones are not seen in the same light as those parents who strive to stretch the limits of their children’s intellectual abilities.  They are accused of being “pushy” and depriving the children of their childhood.  Have you ever seen a child practice to get to the top of their sport?  All the figure skaters at the Olympics are very young and have done nothing but spend their entire young lives at practice, practice, and more practice.  Why is that acceptable?  Why do we celebrate these athelese and not equally celebrate the children who dedicate their hearts and souls to reaching their intellectual aspirations?