We’re all familiar with Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion. We were all forced to memorize them in 11th grade physics and most likely never revisited them after taking our final exams, but they happen to govern our lives in ways we often don’t realize.
Take Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Formally stated, the law holds that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When applied to science, action-reaction force pairs make everyday motions, such as a bird’s ability to fly, possible. The wings of the bird force air downwards, and since forces result from mutual interactions, the air thereby must also be pushing the bird upwards.
When applied to pop culture, the Hamilton tune “The Election of 1800” quotes the law of motion for it’s relevance in to describing an action -- Thomas Jefferson displaying friendly affection towards John Adams -- and its equal and opposite reaction -- Jefferson’s expression of disdain for the unpopular laws Adams passed during his presidency.
When applied to religion, the action/reaction law draws an uncanny parallel to the Buddhist and Hindu belief in karma -- the sum of a person’s actions in this life as well as in previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. Or, in layman's terms, “what goes around comes around.”
When applied to life, Newton’s third law keeps us sane.
If for every bad thing that happened in the world there didn’t exist a single positive headline or feel-good news story to counter the messages of negativity being constantly injected into our hearts and minds, we’d easily fall into a madman’s existence, moping around with a blank, soulless stare, waiting tirelessly for the end of the world to consume us. Thankfully, we haven’t yet reached that point of crippling pessimism, but to be quite honest, we’re close.
Think of Newton’s third law in its application to life as the classic glass half full or half empty debate. The truth is that neither answer is solely correct in its own right, but that the two are rather simultaneously relevant in composing the glass as a whole. Just like "good" and "bad" could not exist without the other and when combined create life, the glass could not be half full if it wasn’t also half empty, or vice versa.
So this week, amidst the Olympics buzz, I wanted to take the opportunity to demonstrate that in all aspects of this crazy thing we call life, and more specifically in the Rio Olympics, for every cynical or downright depressing action, there has never failed to be an array of optimistic and uplifting reactions.
Half empty: NBC Announcer Dan Hicks responded to Katinka Hosszu’s 400m individual medley swim by saying that her husband and coach Shane Tusup was “the man responsible” for the the world-record-setting and gold-medal-winning achievement. This further fueled criticism regarding sexist media coverage around the 2016 Olympics.
Half full: The International Volleyball Federation altered regulations regarding uniform size in an effort to open up the playing field for athletes that come from more modest cultures. Thanks to this change, Egypt entered its first ever women’s beach-volleyball duo into qualification rounds. And, to reinforce that girl power is alive and well in Rio, Simone Biles shut down reporters by stating, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” You go, girl.
Half Empty: Feel like you’re fast-forwarding a majority of this year’s Olympic coverage due to excessive commercial breaks? You’re not alone. NBC set their own Olympic record by selling a whopping $1.2 billion worth of ad space during their prime-time nightly broadcast. It doesn’t help that half of the commercials make little to no sense -- think raining octopuses and a pig getting ready for retirement.
Half Full: Advertising has the unique power to inspire, influence, and even move an audience of astronomical size, and during the 2016 Olympic Games, there have been some standout commercials that take their 30 to 60 seconds of airtime not to push a product in our face, but to urge us to realize that we are all human, and to remind us of our ability as members of the human race to achieve great things as long as we always persevere. Check out Apple’s “The Human Family”, and Nike’s “Unlimited Courage”.
Half Empty: French gymnast Samir Ait Said snapped - literally, snapped - his left leg on a gruesome vault landing. To make matters worse, medics holding the stretcher he was placed on dropped him.
Half Full: Mo Farah, a British track & field athlete, took a bad fall almost halfway through his 10000m medal race -- and then got up, kept running, and went on to win gold. Ethiopian runner Etenesh Diro also showed us why you should never give up by advancing to a medal final after completing a 3000m steeplechase with only one shoe.
Half Empty: There has been heightened controversy around the economic and social condition of the host country in this year’s Olympics as Brazilians, particularly those who live in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, protest their displacement and the lack of care being paid to them by their own government. “While the rich play, we suffer” they argue.
Half Full: Celebrity chefs like Massimo Bottura are turning food waste from the Olympic village into meals for the homeless of Brazil. They are adamant in establishing that “this is not some pop-up project,” but rather a 10-year endeavor to serve daily lunch to paying customers in order to fund dinners for the homeless.
Just like Newton’s laws of motion govern the physical aspects of our universe, the good and the bad in our universe (and the balance between the two) govern what we can’t always see -- the beauty in the trials and tribulations of life. As people suffer, Olympic athletes lose, and the world we live in seems to grow more potently pessimistic, we mustn't forget to revel in the more rare, yet equally powerful moments of joy, celebration, and gold medal victory.