Weis: Collective Perspiration
09/26/11 5:55PM By Russ Weis
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As the seasons change, commentator Russ Weis is thinking about some
provocative reading he did while sweating through the long, hot days
(WEIS) I've read a couple of life-changing books recently. Though very different in style and scope, they share an important common theme.
The first, Born to Run , is about how we humans are designed to be long-distance running machines. In it, author Christopher McDougall tells the tale of a reclusive native tribe - the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico - who are able to run vast distances across their beautiful landscape at an incredible pace. Whether young, old, male, or female, the Tarahumara think nothing of briskly covering scores of miles - up and down mountains and barefoot no less - just for the sheer joy of it all. From an early age, these peaceful people play cooperative games that prepare them for a life of long-distance jaunts that would tire most of us out just thinking about them.
But McDougall asserts that all of us today, regardless of ethnicity, retain the ability to run such ultra-marathons ourselves, if, that is, we run with heart and a noncompetitive spirit.
McDougall says how our Stone Age ancestors engaged in long-range collaborative hunts. He talks about how Homo sapiens sweat better than any other species, enabling us to stay cool over long distances. The book was so persuasive that I now take my weekly jogs in unpadded sneakers. But I'm still working on the whole noncompetitive thing.
The second book that also made a deep impression on me is Teaching the Commons, by Paul Theobald. Theobald traces the complex history of rural cooperative instincts vs. urban competitive impulses. He argues for the restoration of community in today's world. His book elevates the common good above individual desires, offering an antidote to the toll our feverish consumer culture has taken on local communities and, indeed, the entire planet.
So, in their own way both books emphasize the inherent cooperative nature of our humanness. This was dramatically illustrated by the admirable communal response by the people of our state to the recent massive flooding.
In a stark contrast to this all-for-one and one-for-all attitude, a few days after Hurricane Irene blew through I happened to view a network meteorologist who sounded more like a stone caster than a forecaster. He was much more interested in bashing those who believe in global warming than in reporting the weather.
Since there is no disputing that our ability to pump oil out of the ground without ecological consequence is rapidly coming to an end, how much better it would be if we could set aside our differences and summon the heart necessary to point our collective feet uphill and start pumping in new directions as a united people.
To keep us from heading back towards the Stone Age ourselves, it's time to harness our propensity for prodigious perspiration and focus on what we have in common, and then together make our way briskly and with heart toward more promising vistas ahead.
(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Russ Weis at VPR-dot-net.