Now that we’ve let the unexpected result of Joseph Schooling’s Tokyo Olympics performance sink in, let’s pause and reflect.
I’m sure we can all recall that glorious moment when our nation’s pride, Joseph Schooling, carried our flag at the Rio Olympics five years ago. He was the 100m butterfly gold medalist that brought glory to Singapore’s sports history. A victory parade was held to mark his record-breaking performance. But in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Schooling didn’t make the cut for the semi-finals. And the narrative changed…
Positively, we congratulated Schooling for his efforts and stood by him despite the result. While most of us remained supportive, some of us didn’t handle it well.
For us starfishes who’ve been living under a rock, there was an online uproar about Schooling’s failure to meet certain expectations at the Tokyo Olympics. We saw a surge in negative comments directed at him personally for not performing up to par. This got me thinking. What kind of mindset are we promoting?
Let’s be real. In today’s society, be it the school we go to or the material possessions we have, achievements define our worth. A failure or even a shortcoming in our highly competitive school environment is frowned upon. It’s a perspective ingrained in us from a very impressionable young age.
This collectively corrosive mindset calls for a discussion. And mob mentality may be to blame. We’re talking about people adopting certain behaviours or viewpoints under the influence of their peers. As a Singaporean who’s witnessed an array of reactions to certain incidents on social media, I think we like to be involved in drama. We feel pressured to adopt a popular opinion about the “tea” no matter the personal stance, creating a mob mentality. And when our obsession with achievement drives this mentality to the extreme, we become collectively critical of people who don’t cut it.
Where did we go wrong?
The problem: our inclination to adopt an achievement-oriented approach. One day, we place the gold medallist on a pedestal; the next day, we trash him for his failure to meet expectations.
Criticisms of Schooling’s National Service deferment and accusations of him receiving special treatment resurfaced. Not only that, but comments became personal to the extent of body-shaming. How is that constructive?
In 2016, we were singing praises and enjoying shared ownership of his victory. But when he failed on the world stage, suddenly all accountability was his.
We can’t deny that all the Olympic athletes put their heart and soul into training. So why is there a need to demand an explanation when they fail? Today’s champ may not be tomorrow’s champ and that’s okay. Enough with the harsh criticism!
I think we’re so caught up in striving for achievements that we fail to be okay when we fall short. We resort to blaming and belittling rather than encouraging and understanding. We went from supporting to condemning the Olympian swimmer, when it’s our role as a nation to stand by him at his highest and his lowest.
Social media: A double-edged sword
I found it heartwarming to see the majority countering such criticisms. Rallying behind the young Olympian with words of encouragement. Reminding him that Singapore has his back. Which makes the pool of unfavourable opinions disheartening.
I’m no expert but social media may have fuelled such behaviour. Hiding behind a screen gives keyboard warriors anonymity to lash out at someone. This is where I see it becoming a double-edged sword.
Are we misusing our freedom on social media to rage and attack people for their actions under the guise of the “greater good”?
Don’t get me wrong! Questionable actions should be called out and I believe we’ve done that when necessary. But slurs and personal attacks are straight-up cyberbullying. This is a chance for us to have healthier discussions and show compassion.
Fortunately, Schooling took the mature approach of focusing on the positive and I applaud him for that.
So, how can we combat this culture of negativity?
1. Have empathy
It’s time to unlearn how we value someone’s worth. As much as we idolise them, athletes are humans too. It’s not just the physical aspect that they work hard on but the mental part as well. I think we’ve normalised unrealistic expectations of athletes. But it’s vital that we develop empathy over apathy to see beyond our perspective of the world and connect with compassion.
Regardless of the outcome, Schooling has and still represents Singapore on an international scale. He set a precedent for Singapore’s presence in the Olympics. Competing on prestigious platforms is no easy feat but Schooling stands tall and continues to fight another day. It’s only fair that we understand the pressures that come with carrying the nation at a global level.
2. Believe that failure isn’t our enemy
Picking ourselves up after defeat is the only way we can divert failures positively. I’ll admit, opening up to the idea of failure isn’t easy. But it’s okay. Think about it: without embracing failure, no one’s taking risks or learning from mistakes.
3. Foster the Singapore spirit (in times when we need it the most)
It’s home, truly, where you feel safe for people to see you at your best and worst, right? ‘Cos you know you’ll still be accepted. Having each other’s back is an instinctive trait we’ve learned from friendship and family. So let’s apply it as a country – just like we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic. Our sense of being one Singapore is what it means to be Singaporean.
4. Practice sportsmanship (and not just in sports)
Understanding the importance of sportsmanship is the strongest sign of camaraderie, which we need to combat our success-obsessed culture. We all want to get to the finish line first. But not at the expense of belittling others for their shortcomings.
Sure, it’s easier said than done. We have high expectations of talents that represent our nation but when unfavourable outcomes happen, let’s be kind. Let’s celebrate the blood, sweat and tears that got them this far. Let’s learn from failures and move on. Let’s do better, Singapore.