Sunday, September 25, 2011

Running to a Better World

I firmly believe that the world would be a better place if all people, young and old, male and female, would and could run. Now that's a fairly bold assertion, and one I'm sure many would take issue with. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, there are people who proclaim confidently and loudly that they hate, yes hate, running. They will run if chased, but otherwise, no thank you. I, on the other hand believe that the world would be a happier, healthier, more compassionate place, if more people ran. Yet, the empirical evidence may not be there to support my claim. So what are my reasons? Why stand on my high horse professing the virtue of running? Why do I feel this urge to push my views on everybody else? Why don't I just shut-up and run, and let others do as they wish?

Well, I'm not going to force anyone to run. I won't even say that you should run (and should implies an ought). But I do believe that as members of human society, we each have a right and perhaps a duty to try to persuade others to do what is good for themselves and those around them - and with that view follows the consequence, that you may feel free to try to persuade me if you feel otherwise. I say persuade - not force, badger, coerce, threaten - but simply to argue (not fight) in a search for a better life and a better world.

John Start Mill argued that when there are more happy individuals in the world there is more overall happiness. Moreover, as a Utilitarian, he argues that it is our moral duty to act in a way that creates more happiness not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Aristotle believed that as social beings we need society and depend upon it for our development and the pursuit of our ultimate end (aim or goal) which is Eudaimonia - a flourishing, complete life. As such, it is our job as members of society to encourage the exercise of the virtues. A good society and state encourages the virtues. A corrupt society and state encourages the vices. So, I'm just here to do my part, and perhaps my duty.

So, to continue: I believe the world would be a happier, better place if most/more people ran regularly. By regularly I'd say, oh, perhaps 4-6 days a week. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you run - just run (I suppose that hiking, walking, rock climbing, cross country skiing and other vigorous, yet contemplative, activities could also suffice). Why do I think this?  I'm not going to pull out the old endorphin argument - we all already know all about that. That argument only strengthens my position - but I believe I have a strong claim beyond the endorphin angle.   What I'm talking about the effect that being in and moving our bodies through the world has on us, our relationships with others and our feelings about our environment.

I know, for myself, that after I run I am much more: relaxed, energized, patient, concerned, clear-headed, motivated, focused, satisfied, etc. with myself and everyone around me. It's not like I'm a jerk before I run, at least I don't think I am, but running gives me the time and space to sort things out so that I am better able to pay greater attention to the important things in life. Additionally, I care more about my natural surroundings because I'm out there every day, in all weather, through every seasons. I'm out there when I'm feeling depressed, and when I'm feeling satisfied and hopeful. Running forces me to leave the safe isolation of my own little world. Running is also simple, and it is slow enough to allow you to really see, smell, feel, taste, and hear what is happening around you, yet fast enough to require effort and fortitude.

But - the naysayer retort - who am I to say that my experience would apply to others? This is a fair question. As a philosophy (and logic) instructor I should know better then to rely on the example of my experience which amounts to nothing more than a hasty generalization (insufficient and unrepresentative sample varieties) to advance my argument. I could try to strengthen my argument by adding the additional claim that I know a lot of runners, I'd estimate, several thousand.  But that helps little given the fact that there are around 7 billion people in the world right now.

So, what do I have left? I guess all I really have is a weak argument that relies basically on a vision, a feeling, an intuition, rational or irrational, about how people work and the sort of creatures we are - animals that need to move (among other things) - something we tend to lose sight of in our technology obsessed age. You may take it or leave it. But, I will ask the naysayers to try out my way before they poo-poo it - for their argument may suffer from similar fallacious reasoning - they haven't really given it a chance before drawing their conclusions.  I think once they really give it a try, they too will be convinced.


If more people ran, the world would be a better place because: Running allows you to run away when you need to and to run back when you are ready. Running takes you out into your world as the animal you really are and connects you to the world. You see the trees, the buildings, the people, the dogs, the birds, the sky, the cracks in the sidewalk,  - seasons change, clouds move through the sky, rivers rise and fall, snow flies, flowers bloom. You feel your own cold breath move through your throat on a frosty morning, and the heat of your blood beneath your skin on a hot afternoon. You know the warmth of the first breath of spring, and the shiver of the first chill of autumn. You smell mud, grass, smoke, dust, diesel fumes, heat rising off of the pavement, rain soaking into the ground.  In winter ice forms on you brow and the hairs of your upper lip.  In the summer you can taste the salt of your effort. You run to survive the death of a loved one, to heal from a failed relationship, and to celebrate a birth on a new life. But, you also see trash carelessly tossed in gutters, angry aggressive drivers, dead animals, feted streams, fields of wildflowers plowed under for new development.  Day in, and day out, you feel pain, power, humility, weakness, strength, invincibility, fear, hope, sadness, wonder...elation.

Running may not make you a good and happy person, but it may offer an opportunity to discover or create that in yourself. Running may just wake you up. Perhaps even shake you up, if you're paying attention.

Recently I was told that I am idealistic and unrealistic (and perhaps naive) because I believe runners should sometimes run races for charity not because they gain entry into the Boston Marathon or the New York City Marathon, but just because it's a good thing to do. I was told that people just don't do that. I don't buy it.  I believe that running has the power to wake us from our dogmatic slumber as we realize that we are part of the world community, part of the natural environment, part of our town, neighborhood, country -  and we have the ability to do some good in a world that sometimes feels so big, where we often feel so powerless. 

Running makes you feel alive. When you are running you are alive, and, you know it. You have energy and power, and sometimes you may even feel that you can change the world. So now, let's go out and do some good in the world...

Addendum: I posted the video above because I think the sentiment is spot on. I hope NIKE will practice what it preaches and promises here. Thus far, the company's record is has not been a shining beacon of hope. We runners might want to encourage NIKE to do the right thing around the world - pay living wages, provide safe working conditions, and refrain from sponsoring athletes (ie. Micheal Vick) who contradict the message they're making above (can sport please kick the ass of animal abuse too?). Let them know what you think...@


  1. Awesome post and I agree with you on so many accounts. Coming from the rationale of a facet we focus on in the education realm, the human society today is plagued with nature deficet. We are not out in the natural world as much as we should be and the victims are not only children (who I primarily focus on with work and providing natural learning experiences) but with adults. The comfort and healing of our natural world is powerful and what humans were a part of. Running brings you back into that connection. And for the nay-sayers, when you feel cranky, lethargic, or your child is in a full blown meltdown, go outsdide and see what happens. It is remarkable!


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