“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
Just a brief race report for those interested and then back to some serious blogging. My wife, Karmen, tells me that I was distracted in the weeks leading up to the race. She’s probably right (and she is usually right) . I do feel a sense of relief and freedom in these now 10 days since I raced. So I’m ready to give my blog the attention it has lacked for a time. Now to the report…
As I examine the race I find myself very satisfied, and oddly enough it doesn’t have much to do with the fact that I improved my time over 2008 by 2 hrs 17 minutes (total race time 13:13:15). It mostly has to do with the fact that I did it twice. I did the Ironman twice. I wasn’t “one and done.” It now feels like it’s not just some challenge that I faced and conquered. It feels like it’s part of who I am. Ironman. It’s part of my fiber. I like that. It’s the most satisfying thing of the whole experience. Race day was good. The weather was near perfect except for 62 degree water. My improvement over 2008 was across the board with an equally good swim time, a dramatically improved bike time, and a significantly improved run time. My overall place was very near the 50th percentile. I’m satisfied with all of that and am relishing wearing my “Finisher’s” jacket with a great big Ironman logo and the word “Finisher” across the back, but I don’t feel like it’s to brag on my accomplishment. It’s because it’s now part of who I am, more so than it was before. Thanks to all who watched the live feed online and followed me around the course via the athlete tracker. Thanks to Karmen and Jack and Jace for actually coming to Tempe to support me and for putting up with all the training. Now it’s time for a rest. Soon it will be time to gear up for number 3, Ironman Arizona 2010. I’ve still got room to improve. Now on the important stuff…
In my pre-race post, I mentioned I was reading a book by Laurence Gonazles called Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things. It’s a great book. He is largely making a case for not leading an unexamined life, for not blindly going through life and letting the culture think for you. That kind of unexamined living leads to a great deal of evil. I’d like to quote a section from chapter 8, pages 141-142:
“…When we are not living examined lives, when we aren’t paying attention, when we are not practicing self-reliance, other forces slip in to dominate our lives, our behavior, and ultimately our fate and our future. Relying on others and losing our own abilities has made ours a fearful and vindictive society. Societies, like individuals and institutions, build emotional systems. Shocks to the system can accumulate and lead to overreaction. For example, in 1982 someone put cyanide into bottles of Tylenol and replaced the bottles on shelves in stores. Seven people died as a result. The death of seven people is not a very large event in our country, but that event produced a deep change in our cultural emotional system. Every conceivable kind of package was quickly sealed up beyond any normal individual’s ability to open it. That’s just one shock to which we overreacted. Safety measures work like technology: they suffer from a ratchet effect. They can only go in one direction. Once you invent the car, you can’t go back to the horse. Once you seal the bottle (‘for your protection’), you can never again sell an unsealed one. Over the years our society was shaken by many such shocks, from the Columbine High School massacre to the collapse of the World Trade Center. Each shock led to more control, and our society began to lose its flexibility, its adaptability.
We no longer know how to react to ordinary events. In White Plains, New York, in July 2007, eight students taped alarm clocks to the walls of their high school as a prank and were charged with the felony of ‘placing a false bomb,’ which carried jail time. This is not an isolated incident. It is a widespread trend in this country toward ‘getting tough.’ In December 2007, a ten-year-old girl in Ocala, Florida, was sent to school with a lunch that included steak. In her lunch bag was a small knife with which to cut the steak. Her teachers at Sunrise Elementary School saw the knife and called the Marion County sheriff. The girl was arrested and faced felony weapons charges. When a society turns on its own children, it is no longer functioning normally. Getting tough is only necessary when you have already lost control. And the fact that we can no longer distinguish between terrorists or violent criminals and our own children – or for that matter, between eating utensils and weapons – is an ominous sign. By this reasoning, the baseball team would be arrested for wielding clubs. But if you can no longer think, you can’t be reasonable.
It is the failure of thought and reason that leads to such outcomes, in which people have followed a seemingly logical path to reach complete nonsense. Hence the phrase, ‘intelligent mistakes.’ When people abdicate responsibility and come to rely on a system of rigid rules, matters can take an ugly and dangerous turn.
When reporters came to question the authorities as the Sunrise Elementary School, they were told that the teachers had no choice about what they had done to the little girl. ‘Anytime there’s a weapon on campus, yes, we have to report that,’ said a spokesman for the county school system. A spokesman for the Marion County sheriff’s office defended his actions against the little girl in the same way: ‘Once we’re notified,’ he said, ‘then we have to take some kind of action.’ The most frightening element of this drama is the refusal of ordinary people to think at all. Their answers are reminiscent of those given by officers of the German Reich during the Nuremberg trials, in which they said, as if it were obvious, that they were following orders. And of course, they were.” (Emphasis mine)
I believe these are profound words to be taken deeply to heart. Gonzales is right. When we let the culture, the institution, the government, the corporation, do our thinking for us, we walk a dangerous line. The unexamined life is truly a very dangerous path to travel. I think it happened to me in the area of faith. Karmen and I were actually told from a board member at the church we used to attend that what we thought didn’t matter. It was just our job to follow the leadership of the church. Wow, that’s just a few steps short of the way a cult works, and it didn’t feel right then even though we weren’t quite sure why, and it absolutely doesn’t feel right now, and what Gonzales has laid out here is the reason why. If we are not intimately and deeply involved in examining ourselves honestly and understanding why we do what we do and thinking through the consequences of our actions, we are heading towards a mighty intense crash, not only as individuals, but as churches, as corporations, as governments, as cultures, and as humanity as a whole.
And you know, I think Ironman racing, the training, the discipline, the lifestyle, helps me lead a deeper examined life. Thanks for reading.