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How the Winter Olympics is breaking stereotypes and altering global consciousness

We'll see it when we believe it?

Opening ceremony of the winter Olympics
Opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
From dazzling pyrotechnics, K-Pop, and the ceremonial torch-lighting, to the global parade of athletes alphabetically streaming onto the world stage, the opening celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics captivated America’s consciousness. Ironically, however, as we waited for the dramatic, finale-arrival of Team USA (could our founding fathers have deliberately named our country with a "U" to give us this patriotic moment to milk 150 years in the future?), other ideas were rapidly streaming into our subconscious as well.

Yep, on the outside we may have been sizing up countries we were hoping to beat (bring it, Canada!), or puzzled by countries we’d never heard of before (Andorra?). We may have been awed by seriously cool uniforms (yeah France, rock those white outfits), and surprised by countries so small the entire team and the flag holder were the same person (go Tonga!). But beneath the surface, new ideas were entering our subconscious with the power to break us out of old assumptions and stereotypes, and inspire new possibilities for the world.
Pita Taufatofua at the opening ceremony
How? Well for starters we learned that just because Pita Taufatofua (Tonga’s shiny, shirtless flag holder who broke the Internet) lives on a tiny South Pacific island doesn’t mean he can’t take on the Swedes as an Olympic cross-country skier. We also learned that coconut oil can actually substitute for a jacket in sub-freezing weather (if you’re Pita.)

And while the Jamaican bobsledding team returned for another wild ride down the mountain, the debut of the Nigerian bobsledding team is further proof that people who live in the tropics can still go for the gold in the arctic. Even before the games began, their mere presence unlocked possibilities and changed narratives on how the world could be. (The fact that these bobsledders happened to be super cool women was an added stereotype-breaking bonus.)
North and South Koreans march together under the Korean unity flag
On a far more serious level, visions of North and South Korean athletes marching together in flag-waving unity after a 70-year stalemate (not to mention recent “nuclear button” smack talk) introduced the notion that there are real human beings at the center of this political rivalry. Watching them compete as team members instead of adversaries, we subconsciously took in the possibility that the Korean peninsula could actually become peaceful. In the snap of a selfie, mental images of war mongers were replaced by grinning, peace-sign-throwing GenZs.

Another athlete hoping to trigger a global, mental re-boot is Sajjad Hasaini— a 28-year-old Afghan (and one of our GSD Afghan team members!), who is aiming to become the first alpine skier to represent his country.
CNN story on Sajjad and other aspiring Afghan skiers
From learning to ski in the mountains of central Afghanistan to training in Switzerland, Sajjad spent years prepping for PyoengChang. Not just to win a medal, but to become part of the global society— to say, "I am here, and I want what you want!"

“I want to show the people of all the countries that Afghanistan is not all war and explosions. I want to tell them that we can rebuild our country and that we can change it,” says Sajjad.

Once we believe in possibility, we begin to form new expectations— and expectations are powerful, consciousness-altering forces. Marching in the parade alongside the rest of the world’s athletes, Sajjad’s infectious smile could easily replace our stereotypes of Afghanistan as a war-torn wasteland into the historic homeland of a friend. This collective acceptance of a “new Afghanistan” has the power to upend seemingly endless vicious circles as new ideas seem to materialize out of thin air.

Unfortunately, despite his success at the World Championships, Sajjad and his teammate narrowly missed the point requirement to qualify for PyeongChang. So the world will have to wait until 2022 to meet Sajjad at the Beijing games. But now that you have met Sajjad, pass this story on, sprinkle those seeds of possibility, and let’s create a new future for Afghanistan. We’ll see it when we believe it.
Sajjad skiing
Sajjad before a run down the mountain
Sajjad speaks to Afghan teens
Sajjad discusses his dream for Afghanistan at GSD's youth leadership conference in Bamyan, Afghanistan.
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