LooseCrew-JeffO: Do we know us?


Ramblings of an adventurous guy living in Denver and playing in the mountains.
For my trail adventures, visit my Trail Bum blog

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Do we know us?

Life has taught me that few people know themselves. They look you right in the eye and tell you stuff about themselves that isn't true. Lying? No. They think it's true.
We come to know ourselves by being tested. Easy stuff doesn't test us. Disaster tests us. Near-death experience tests us.
Merely feeling thrilled because you're snowboarding or driving too fast, or riding a theme-park rollercoaster doesn't count.
Climbing mountains in blizzards or x-country skiing in dangerous conditions or storms only partially counts - because the danger is more of a "potential" nature. Still, it causes you to measure risks and make decisions and sometimes you miscalculate and end up using all your narrow margin of error.
Cancer and other disasters, which blind-side you, and were not a conscious choice, that definitely tests us. (I say "conscious choice" because many of us make lousy lifestyle choices that lead to chronic diseases.)
A lifetime of dancing with mortality helps us to know who we are. Some unfortunate people know themselves a bit more than they would prefer.

Back in the days I worked with street-people, I thought it was odd that the total-loser alcoholics were some of the most intelligent and wise people I ever met. They lacked strength and they lacked self-respect but they had wisdom in spades. While alcoholics are some of the most notorious liars on Earth, get them around other self-admitted alcoholics and they become, for awhile, the most honest creatures that ever talked. You can learn a lot from a recovering alcoholic. Mostly about priorities. Even if you're just a bystander, it makes you think how maybe you're not spreading your energies in all the best directions.

People complain that voters are stupid. I don't really appreciate such "I'm smarter than everyone else" comments like that, but I think there's some truth to it. Life in America, and most of the western nations, are becoming so structured and safe that people are no longer tested. These days people freak out about small things, because cholera and tuberculosis epidemics, are nothing more than stories in history books - and no one pays attention in history class anymore so no one knows about plagues or famine.

The "Good Old Days" weren't good. In my hikes around Colorado's mountains, I've come across dozens of cabins where they used newspaper to insulate or wallpaper their homes. Vandals tear the boards off walls to expose these newpapers from Victorian days. Today they talk like things are "worse than ever". They aren't. Things were much worse 100 years ago. Much, much worse 200 years ago. Etc. If someone says things are worse today, they expose themselves as an uninformed dolt who never cracked a book or paid attention.
What is worse is we don't know ourselves as well as they once did. If we don't know ourselves, we can't know others.
We also can't make decisions as well - like voting, like what we should be eating, like what we should be doing.

It's not all gloom. The harsher tests of yesteryear made a more self-centered individual. Survival of the fittest and everyone for themselves. They were tougher and complained less. Get a bunch of those types together with a common goal and they were a force to recon with.
You think people are selfish today? Not as bad as they were 100 years ago. Today, especially in America, it's P-C to care about saving the planet or world peace. (Of course, everyone points the fingers at someone else and wants laws to force "someone else" to fix what ever problem they've adopted.) In the old days, it was: Keep your eyes down and your mouth shut. Mind to your business. Families pulled closer together as a team.

Today, we have the luxury of entertaining ourselves with imagined problems, and shouting heroically about our fellows' woes. We can ignore the real dangers and problems right under our noses because they aren't as serious as problems used to be, or as fun as imagined ones can be.
I'm guilty too. Maybe the only difference is I'm not so unconscious of my guilt. I nag myself to be real - to prioritize, to cherish what is truly important.

I wonder if I do actually love running, or trail running in particular? Maybe there's something more going on and trail running and racing is just a vehicle that I subconsciously imagine will give me - what?
Is there a dead-end around the corner? Will I realize some day that I'm at the end of an alley with no way forward and, when I turn around, see that there's only emptiness behind me?
People go to college for years to get a PhD, and then they do something important with their education. I guess I expect myself to do something important with my running endeavors. It's got to go somewhere beyond just impressing myself or my son, or just for physical health. I'm not impressive like Dean Karnazes. People and companies won't seek me out to fight cancer in children or save the world, but maybe I can figure something out. And hopefully it won't be some imagined, P-C, fad-cause, but something real and important.


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