239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
72
 | 
June 21, 1912
New York, NY
Storify Feature

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

“INDIAN THORPE FIRST in Olympic Pentathlon,” the New York Times announced on May 19, 1912, reporting on one of the first rounds of the Olympic tryouts. Jim Thorpe, whose parents were both half Native American, from the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma, had tried out in Brooklyn for the American Olympic team, and he had blown the field away. “Physically, he is a magnificent specimen,” the New York Evening World wrote of him, “fit to be compared with the greatest of the ancient Greeks. . .” Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, hoped the Olympics would help realize international peace. By June 20, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá prepared to leave New York for a few days of rest in Montclair, New Jersey, the Games were nine days away. They would begin June 29 in Stockholm, Sweden.

In a few weeks time the Reverend Percy Stickney Grant would ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about the Olympics. Grant believed in the building up of physical strength as a prerequisite for moral uprightness. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had a different point of view. “We do not deprecate physical development,” he said, “for the sound mind should work through a sound body, but We think that the people of the West are too much concerned with mere physical development. They forget the need of spiritual development.”

This morning he told those assembled at his apartment at 309 West 78th Street in Manhattan that he would soon hold a spiritual feast, a “feast of unity.” He wanted it “outdoors under the trees, in some location away from the city noise — like a Persian garden.” “[H]earts will be bound together,” he said, “spirits blended and a new foundation for unity established. All the friends will be my guests.”

Coubertin hoped universal peace might emerge from a new generation of unprejudiced youth. The Games he envisioned were a form of peace education to bring young people together for “amicable trials of muscular strength and agility.” But in 1912, during the age of colonialism, only twenty-eight nations actually competed. Japan became the first Asian nation to join, and Egypt the first Arab and African nation.

After the first modern Olympic games took place in 1896, Coubertin reflected that “One may be filled with a desire to see the colors of one’s club or college triumph in a national meeting, but how much stronger is the feeling when the colours of one’s own country are at stake!” But the Olympics were more symbol than substance when it came to the peace movement.

Two years after celebrating international reciprocity in Stockholm, German regiments were marching across the Rhineland, machine guns were tearing flesh apart on the Marne, British dreadnoughts were barricading the continent, and even Sweden, a country that declared itself as neutral, was planning to lay mines along its main shipping lane, the Kogrundsrännan, to keep Allied ships out of the Baltic Sea.

“The great mass of humanity does not exercise real love and fellowship,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told his audience on June 20. He believed that if humanity were to unite, people needed a universal cause that extended beyond national loyalties. It wasn’t enough for people to merely tolerate each other. He wanted people to “be as the parts and members of one body.” The organs of the human body are diverse in shape, composition and function, he explained, but the result of their harmony is a healthy human being, much more than the sum of its parts.

Such a degree of unity, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, had existed among Bahá’u’lláh’s early Persian followers: “There was no duality but complete mutuality of interests and love.” “If in need of a hat or cloak,” he said, “they would take and use it. The owner would be thankful and grateful that the garment had gone.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá hoped his unity feast would enable each participant to become “a cause of unity and center of accord,” and that it would generate “this same degree and intensity of love.”

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DRH5YL2G2C3KX56PH3KYOYVMWI Enrique

    Any efforts for peace large or small and in whatever manner it is done is to be applauded.  We must remember that peace brings peace and war brings war.  If we do away with Prejudice, Hatred and Violence we can obtain peace.  For Prejudice, Hatred, and Violence are the main ingredients for war.  If all of us, the human being strive to end Prejudice, end Hatred and end vVolence we will obtain peace love and unity.  It starts with us.  Your friend from Uvalde, Texas, Enrique Cantu, Sr.

    • Anne Breneman

      Beautifully said! This formula is the one we are being offered,  but it only works if we replace prejudice, hatred, and violence– with embracing all humanity as our own family, with genuine love for others, and with determination to turn our swords of violence into plow shares. Just imagine how prosperous our world society will be when we get over our ancient fascination with the study of wars!

  • http://www.facebook.com/caitlin.s.jones Caitlin Shayda Jones

    Dear readers: Even though the motto “Swifter, Higher, Stronger” wasn’t actually used in the Olympic Games until 1924 in Paris, we couldn’t resist using it as a title! 

  • Bahaiwoman99

    Wow!  Thanks.  This brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes in thankfullness for these beloved ideals.  May our actions each day bring us closer to these goals.

  • Linasmithson

    An impulse towards peace

  • William Maxwell

    Plato also taught that the easiest way to teach a sense of fair play, a precursor to a sense of justice, is via sports and games.  Unfortunately today, the Olympic movement has been taken over by the the greedy, the commercial interests of the world, and the original visions — there were actually three founders of the modern Olympics — are almost lost in a cloud of greed and egotism. Nevertheless at the closing ceremony the athletes usually give away their national colors and seek to unite with the symbols of the entire human race. One cannot hold back progress.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003295938534 Rob Sockett

      Interesting insight from Plato. Thanks William.

  • Stevemclean9

    Jim Thorpe worked tirelessly for equal treatment in Hollywood for Native Americans ~ dedicated much of his later life to this cause and one of his sons, John (Jack) Thorpe Indian chief in Oklahoma, embraced the Faith of Baha’u'llah!

  • Rooplall Dudhnath

    These days the Olympics is an international form of   belligerent nationalism ie jingoism.

    The Baha’i feast, which I have been attending for the past 43 years, on the other hand is opposite to that and a sure way towards the unity of mankind, which reminds me that i must go to my local feast this evening…..a place of solace and peace for me to mix with all people of the human race.

    • Carolyn Jane

      I don’t know how the Games have been portrayed on Guyana t.v. Rooplall?
      I see that your comment was made 2 months ago so I hope your opinion has been modified now :-)
      Although there has naturally been excitement when ‘Team GB’ has had some success, this has been a celebration of talent, dedication and sacrifice on so many levels, by athletes from all over the world, and anyone I know who has attended with their children or grand-children, as well as those working as ‘Games Makers’ (hosts) has been thrilled and moved by the experience… I look forward to the closing ceremony tomorrow night, and hope that the world will have moved slightly closer to the ‘unification of the world in one universal family…’

  • Carolyn Jane

    I don’t know how the Games have been portrayed on Guyana t.v. Rooplall?
    I see that your comment was made 2 months ago so I hope your opinion has been modified now :-)
    Although there has naturally been excitement when ‘Team GB’ has had some success, this has been a celebration of talent, dedication and sacrifice on so many levels, by athletes from all over the world, and anyone I know who has attended with their children or grand-children, as well as those working as ‘Games Makers’ (hosts) has been thrilled and moved by the experience… I look forward to the closing ceremony tomorrow night, and hope that the world will have moved slightly closer to the ‘unification of the world in one universal family…’