Historically, the Olympics was a religious festival that would gather a wide berth of people to take part in athletic competitions. This event has evolved into a world-wide gathering of top athletes, many who have spent their entire lives training for a shot at greatness.


Bringing home a gold medal not only is a representation of hard work paying off, a sign of athletic dominance and oftentimes the key to financial gains — it is also a chance to bring greatness to your nation. While national pride and unity is a key component of the Olympic Games, another aspect of the athletic event is international alliance and peace.


The XXIII Olympic Winter Games, held from Feb. 9 to Feb. 25, marked a historic moment for the nations of North and South Korea. As reported by CNN, South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo Jong, sister to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, twice at the opening ceremony to the games, which are being held in South Korea.


“The unprecedented encounter between the two senior Koreans fueled hopes that the Olympics could succeed where a generation of world leaders has failed — to lay the groundwork, however tentatively, to a process of reconciliation on a peninsula that often appears one wrong move away from nuclear conflict,” reports James Masters and Aimee Lewis for CNN.


The opening ceremony was percolated by themes of peace, such as a giant dove and the singing of John Lennon’s peace-anthem “Imagine” by South Korean singers. Even more significantly —though they are technically still at war — North and South Korean athletes entered the ceremony together for the first time in 11 years. In a show of modern unity, CNN reported that athletes from both North and South Korea took selfies together, while more than 35,000 people in Pyeongchang cheered the athletes on as they walked in together.


This scene of enemies turned friends under unusual circumstances is reminiscent of the longstanding claim that German and British soldiers on the front-line engaged in carols, soccer games and gift exchanges during a WWI Christmas truce in 1914. Even though the day before — and the day after — these soldiers were fighting bitterly on opposite sides of the line, they were able to come together to celebrate the holidays with camaraderie and cheer. How is this possible?


Oftentimes we are drawn to different sides of the battle due to factors that are outside of our control or are nonrepresentative of who we are as people. Take the recent Superbowl for example. Sports carries many die hard fans, creating bitter rivalries that often erupt into violence and actual hatred. But why are we fans of certain teams? While personal preferences and athletic prowess factor in, people are often fans of certain teams due to demographics or parental preference — we choose our teams based on where we are born or what we are taught to believe in. But at the end of the day when we put our fists down, we realize we are not as different from our so-called enemies as we were led to believe.


Lastly, let’s examine the intolerance in our nation at the moment. Why do we hate the things we hate? Are our backings justified, or are they based on fear, difference and unfamiliarity? It is easy to find fault in others, to lash out, form prejudices and come up with reasons to be angry and upset. But, it takes a more composed and evolved person to see past their blind rage and examine if there are any backings behind their emotions. In most cases — if not all — hatred is not the solution.


The Olympics may only last for two weeks, but hopefully their underlying message of international peace can extend past this time frame. As the opening ceremony bore witness to, when we take the time or have the chance to set aside our differences, we realize we are not as different as we think. If North and South Korea can join sides, no matter how temporarily, perhaps division in our lives can be mended as well.


Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at epolini@heralddemocrat.com to let her know.