Boxer reminds us of better times, if only very briefly

opinion August 12, 2012 00:00

By The Nation

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Kaew Pongprayoon inspired a moment of unity rare in an era of bitter divide

For about half an hour on Friday evening, the whole of Thailand was at peace. People were speaking on social media in one voice, while politicians suspended making hostile comments about one another, and there were smiles all around whether you were red, yellow or multi-coloured. 

The nation was, for once, watching the same broadcast without one side gritting its teeth in disgust. The cheers and groans were wholehearted and empathic, and they were uttered in unison. It was like the good old days were back.
Sports can divide people, but divided people can also be reunited by sports, no matter how briefly. Kaew Pongprayoon, in displaying his impressive boxing skills, has demonstrated this fact, which can be sad and promising at the same time. If Thailand’s conflict is so deep-rooted, how could everyone rout for the same athlete? If our nation’s political malaise is incurable, why the collective grins and celebrations? It’s quite difficult to understand it when we really think about it.
Maybe the short-lived common happiness that materialised on Friday evening just exposed or emphasised the absurdity of Thailand’s polarity. Both sides of the political divide have no religious conflicts, and there are actually no racial problems involved. We eat the same food, sing the same songs, adore the same movie stars, rout for the same sportsmen and in many cases live or work under the same roofs. How can people who share so much become so divided? Is it a real ideological showdown, or is it power play gone horribly wrong and Thais who used to live as one simply became the casualties of war?
What if Kaew himself is a ... (a political colour)? This question was asked on Twitter. It was met with a quick “So what?” reply. Exactly. 
Anyone can have a political stand, but the point is his or her political stand should matter reasonably. Political thinking is not supposed to degrade personal successes, destroy friendships or break apart families. Political thinking should have a limited place. It is important, but not that important. 
It should never dictate everything.
Friday evening was a brief reconciliation. We didn’t need any contentious bill or charter amendment to taste the sweet glimpses of reunion. It just came naturally. Earlier in the morning, maybe less than half the country had known that a young Thai boxer named Kaew Pongprayoon would be gunning for the Olympics silver medal and a chance to get the gold. In the afternoon, probably 70 per cent of the population were aware of the upcoming boxing match. Just before the first round began, the whole country was in front of TV. No propaganda could have pulled off anything like this. 
In politics, we need someone to tell us who to like and who to hate. Political wars always work this way. They start at the very top, but those who start them need our participation for the wars to go on until their purposes are met. This sounds not easy, but one trick always works like magic. The rivals will tell us we have the right to hate, and hate is all we do. Hatred normally is a result of propaganda. And so is love, if loving someone comes at the expense of us hating someone else.
Why is it that Thais just came together on Friday evening, without anyone telling us to, and directed wholehearted support to a young man who had never been known before? The answer is simple. The love for Kaew came from the togetherness that is always in our blood. For some reasons, it was buried so deep in our hearts that we almost forgot we still have it. It flashed back on Friday evening, reminding us that love without hatred is possible. The Thai togetherness was to repeat itself on Saturday in the boxer’s final showdown with the reigning Olympic champion from China.
Whatever the result of Kaew’s final bout, he and other Thai athletes have already rekindled some fire. The fire may be fainter than the Olympic flame, but it’s meaningful all the same. Coming from within, this is either a tired voice, ready to fade away in a hurry, or an unyielding message that will keep coming back until our soul is cleaned.