Yeah, I know the Olympics are over. But I haven't quite accepted it yet. Last night I got home after doing the Drive-Home show and instinctively grabbed the remote, only to have it dawn on me that the Closing Ceremony had already wrapped up the Sochi Games the night before.
I'm an Olympic junkie, I confess. The human-interest stories, learning about the culture of the host country, and the incredible athleticism on display all draw me in. But more than anything, I just enjoy watching obscure sports get their chance in the limelight once every four years. I think I've caught about every minute of coverage with the help of my DVR, though there were certainly some events that I deemed more "boring" than others and only watched out of the corner of my eye.
One of the sports I would often only watch in the background was cross-country skiing. I didn't really understand the intricacies of the sport, and as such, didn't find it to be overly interesting. That is, until I got to know Chris Salmela.
You might not recognize that name, but if you watched any cross-country skiing you probably now recognize his voice. He's a former biathlete (that's the one where they combine cross-country skiing with shooting) who is now NBC's color commentator on cross-country skiing events. He became immensely popular over the course of the Olympics because of how crazy-excited he got at the end of every cross-country race -- a sport most people in the US couldn't care less about. As the skiers approached the finish line, he would literally start screaming names of Nordic athletes ("THERE GOES OLE EINER BJØRNDALEN!!") I can only dream of pronouncing correctly.
Usually people don't appreciate being screamed at, especially by their television. But this guy's fervency for his sport drew me in. It was hard not to appreciate how genuinely passionate he was, even if his passion was something I knew little about. By the end of the Olympics, I was right there with him, matching his excitement as the skiiers crossed the finish line of each race.
I couldn't help thinking about that today as Kara and I talked about the power of paying attention to others today on the Drive-Home.
When someone close to us is passionate about something we're not, we often respond the way I responded to cross-country skiing. When my wife asks me to take a look at her latest home-decorating or scrapbooking project, all too often I respond with an obligatory, "That's nice." My wife, the one person I profess to love more than any other, is trying to share something with me that she just poured her heart into. And yet my reaction says, "I don't really care."
Obviously everyone's likes and dislikes are different. I'm never going to be as passionate as my wife is about accessorizing our living room, and she's never going to fully understand why I slip into a deep depression every time my favorite football team loses (honestly, I don't understand it myself). And that's ok. The issue isn't about loving or even liking the exact same things as everyone else (though learning to at least appreciate how and why those things could be liked can be quite helpful).
The fact of the matter is that I should care about what my wife cares about because I love her. After all, love is about placing someone else's wants and desires above our own. And this doesn't just apply to those we're close to. We're called to love others more than ourselves, and "others" is a pretty all-inclusive group.
Dismissing the validity or importance of someone's passions tells that person they're unworthy of our time. Every time we send a signal that says, "I don't care," we devalue those we love.
Most people don't scream and yell about their passions like Chris Salmela does on TV, but that doesn't mean they don't run just as deep. But if we aren't paying attention, if we're too wrapped up in our own thoughts and desires, we might just miss it. Maybe it's time to more carefully consider the messages we're sending, even inadvertently, to those around us. When we engage people with a genuine desire to understand their hearts, we send them an unmistakable message: you matter.
That's the power of paying attention.