Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Introspection on the Runner's Code

Jeremy and I once debated a philosophy of Ayn Rand which is called “rational self-interest.” From a Wikipedia article (refrain from judging my source), “According to Rand, a rational man holds his own life as his highest value, rationality as his highest virtue, and his happiness as the final purpose of his life.” She speaks out relatively vehemently about the concept of altruism for its own sake, believing that its practice, selflessness, belies an actual lack of self.

I was not onboard with this at all when we first discussed it. I suppose I refused to reason through the philosophy and stubbornly viewed it in different terms, as a condemnation of selflessness. I was brought up Catholic and this seemed absolutely antithetical to everything I believed about human beings and their obligations to each other. Admittedly, the jury is still out on my Catholic upbringing versus this intellectual view on morality. They’re not mutually exclusive of one another but they’re also not completely compatible.

As usual, I digress. The longer I’ve been part of the endurance sport community, the more strongly I’ve come to believe that we do have obligations to one another as members of the community. But these obligations don’t represent a lack or absence of self, they enhance self. They are an extension of ourselves. Cheering people on at races, running with them, helping someone avoid all the mistakes I’ve made in my own amateur career. Doing those things makes me happy and maximizes my joy. And those that might benefit from that, in turn, put their own joy back into the community. Maybe, depending on the context, selfless and selfish actions can be the same things.

I thought about all this after last weekend, when a number of my friends ran their first races. Being able to watch them (and people I didn’t even know) run was the best thing about the whole weekend, even though I ran my own PR. I mentioned this to my own friend and running mentor, Sharon, who I’m sure had her own running mentor and she said something like “we all pass it along.”

Maybe that’s the endurance athlete’s moral code. It’s some hybrid of rational selfishness and self-sacrifice. It’s an elevation of self that comes from giving back at least as much as we’ve been given along the road.

No comments:

Post a Comment