Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are You the One?

Sometimes you just have to wonder what motivates people.

Listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition while driving to church on Sunday, we heard the report of the death of a finalist in the World Sauna Championships. Who even knew that such a thing exists?

Simply stated, the contest is designed to see who can endure the grueling heat and humidity of a sauna for the longest time. According to Wikipedia, here are the rules:

• The starting temperature is 110 degrees Centigrade. Half a liter of water will be poured on the stove every 30 seconds.

• Use of alcohol is prohibited prior to and during the competition.

• Competitors must wash themselves beforehand, and remove any creams and lotions.

• Competitor must sit erect, their buttocks and thighs on the bench.

• Ordinary swimsuits must be used. Pant legs in men's swimsuits may be up to 20 centimeters long, and women's shoulder straps may be up to 5 centimeters wide.

• Hair that reaches the shoulders must be tied into a ponytail.

• Touching the skin and brushing is prohibited.

• Competitors must not disturb each other.

• At the request of the judges, competitors must show that they are in their senses with a thumbs up.

• Competitors must be able to leave the sauna unaided to qualify.

• A breach of the rules results in a warning. Another one results in disqualification.

• The last person in the sauna is the winner.

This year’s finalists were Russian Vladimir Ladyzhensky and the five-time previous winner Timo Kaukonen from Finland. As noted above, the rules state that the competitors must signal to the judges with a “thumbs up” that all is OK. As this year’s final round of competition progressed, it became obvious that neither of these men was able to respond to the judges. Paramedics rushed in a pulled both finalists from the 110 degree sauna. Though they performed lifesaving measures on both men, Vladimir Ladyzheusky could not be revived. At the time of this post, Timo Kaukonen is being kept in a coma in a Helsinki hospital.

I find this whole scenario very unsettling. The unnecessary loss of life is always sad; in this case, it is what motivates people to participate in an event such as the World Sauna Championship that saddens me most.
We have created a society that tells people that unless they are No. 1, they are not good enough. This is a hellish world to live in. There just aren’t that many No. 1 positions out there for all the world to see. Are those of us who don’t hold one of them worthless? Is this why contests like the World Sauna Championships are created?

In this day where high schools across the country graduate 600, 700, 1000 students per year are those who are not No. 1 destined to be failures? And ook at how we treat Olympic athletes – those who don’t get the gold medal have fallen short. We fail to look at all that they accomplished to get to the Olympics in the first place. Whether they stand on the podium and listen to their country’s national anthem or whether they finish last at the Olympic Games, these athletes have achieved.

Did these people who competed in the World Sauna Championships need to be No. 1 at something to feel validated? Sadly, had there been a decided winner in this obscure competition, in all likelihood, the world would never have known his name. It is only because of the tragic unfolding of this event that the names Vladimir Ladyheusky and Tomi Kaukonen are known to any of us. How much difference would it have made in the life of either of these men to have reigned superior? Obviously not much since the Finish competitor who now lays comatose in a hospital and who had himself won the competition five times previously still felt the need to compete. What does such a need say about the priorities of humankind?

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all strove to be a No. 1 spouse or parent or friend? What about being a No. 1 neighbor or listener? There is room for each of us to be No. 1 at one or more of these things. Being No. 1 on the podium of another person’s heart is the greatest honor that any of us can attain.

Take some time to get rid of all those faulty tools that you use to measure worth and success in yourself and others. Think about those people who are No. 1 in your life and tell them so. And, pray for those who so desperately need such an affirmation and cannot find it in a meaningful place.