An Examined Life

“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.


10 responses to “An Examined Life

  1. Right on. Great post.

    Also, I wish to congratulate you on your awesome achievements. I didnt follow it live, but I did check your result. I wasnt sure if you did better, so I didnt rib you about your slow marathon. lol. Now I know you ran faster than normal. Mind you, what do I know, Im presently a couch potato. Nice one DOUG!

    Your friend

  2. while i don’t think where the dude starts is nessicarily a bad thing… sealed bottles that is. should have been doing that a long time ago. however, i really like where he ends up.

    now i know what you’re thinking… why didn’t i take the blue pill? there is great sorrow in being awake… just as you and karmen experienced with the sleepers at your church. “shut up and follow… now go back to sleep” they say.

    $*#k that! now…. i gotta take a red pill and try to get back in shape. too much comfort food from cope’n with CPE. congrats on the awesome time there ironman!

  3. Congrats on an amazing race! I understand this post firsthand. It’s why I train and race, too. Enjoyed our time together while you were in AZ.

  4. Also, congratulations on the race. There must be something mesmerizing about church services. Not just in the rhythm of the order, ritual, music but something that results in “brain freeze.”

    Maybe (from my background) it’s so many services about so many of our friends and families with one foot in hell unless we evangelize them – implying “you’ll be accountable for them to God.” Then, seeing that the message, accepted as it was, did not result in any substantial change in our choices the rest of the week. If we really believed that message was true, our failure to respond to it by not knocking on doors that day is extreme self-centeredness. But few of us took it literally. It seems to be enough to serve to remind us that at least we were “in.”

    I take every chance I can to ask people after services where there has been a “bait and switch” [where “God unconditionally loves you” becomes “Now, to avoid the eternal conscious torment you deserve….”] if they heard the shift. I have yet to find people even hearing the shift. Frankly, I know from experience the speaker does not even recognize the shift. It’s our story and we’re comfortable with it.

  5. Dr. P-
    I know so many who don’t recognize it, too. It was so ingrained in me, that there are times when I’m still not aware that I’m operating from that point of view.

    I’m getting better at letting people ‘be’ where they are if it’s still works for them. The next step for me is not requiring them to let me ‘be’ where I am without me getting angry. Sloooow process.

  6. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    Bill. Same congrats back to you on an equally amazing race. Looking forward to racing with you again. Stay in touch.

  7. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    Luke. I get what you’re saying about where he starts. Actually, he starts somewhere else, and I jumped in with the part I quoted in the middle. The context of the chapter is the idea that, “…everything comes with a cost” from page 140. Prior to the section I took out, Gonzales gives the history of air bags in cars, which he points out are designed to help us crash safer, not drive safer. The implication is that we just can’t learn how to be better drivers and prevent crashes so we have to make crashing safer. Thus air bags are developed and then they are mandated by law. So fewer adults have serious injuries in crashes, but now children are dying from the tremendous force with which an air bag deploys. It snaps their necks. So we move kids to back seat and mandate that in the form of laws. Great now kids are safe, or so we think. Since the backseat mandate went into effect, the number of kids being left in cars and dying of heat related injuries has increased markedly, over 10-fold from 1990-1992 to 2003-2005. So even with our solutions come consequences and new problems.

    Sealed containers may in fact be a great idea. But remember, everything comes with a cost. Sealing all containers requires more work. That work is most likely done by machines that require electricity to operate. Most of our pollution does not come from burning oil. It comes from burning coal. Coal-fired power plants produce electricity. A new coal-fired power plant comes online in China at the rate of one per week according to Gonzales’ data, and, as he points out, there is not yet even a single CLEAN coal-fired plant in the entire world. So maybe that increase need for electricity to seal every bottle on a shelf is coming at a much higher cost than we have considered. Everything comes with a cost, and our failure to carefully consider that cost before we act can sometimes be devastating.

  8. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    John. No need to point out my weak running ability. I am very aware of it. But I did improve it significantly this time around. Next year look for a 20mph bike average and a 6mph run average. Thanks for your interest.

  9. “Gonzales gives the history of air bags in cars, which he points out are designed to help us crash safer, not drive safer.”

    oooooohhhhhh….. *stands in wonder.*

    yeah man. i getcha!

  10. Congrats on officially becoming an ironman (twice) and gettng better and better in the process – I think we are all in a little awe of the whole experience (running, swimming, and biking) and the strength it takes to finish that endeavor…big ups!

    Now to the blog, I like it!

    “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”

    This is truly the point of it all – the danger of where not thinking can lead us into a trap. History is colored with incdidences like this – many from within the known church institutions – about people supporting rather horrendous ideas.

    One could say the war machine that is now America is one of those ideas that just kind of evolved after WW2 and people didn’t bother much to question it after the Cuban Missle Crisis (almoost as if one event justified every other event after it).

    I brought up this point to Naked Pastor also – about society in general – but church is no different (Steve Taylor would call them ‘clones’). Fact is, most people want the thinking done for them – even in the most prolific information age of all freakin time – they couldn’t be bothered to ask the tough questions for themselves. People fall in line with what is deemed good by supposed experts above them.

    However, being educated and having 2 degrees (like Doug – not meaning to boast – but I am proud of it) – I know thinking and questioning the ideas of many things is normal – you don’t arrive at change by following everyone else off the cliff. We are created to question – how do I know? Because I see that we all have brains and when we use them – things change.

    I think most people fear they do not have the ‘stuff’ it takes to say anything meaningful or make the stand they need to. People suffer from a few things – self esteem one, peer pressure another, but most of all – whether what they do say means anything? And I think we find it usually does.

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