So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Handicapper General Has Determined...

Not one of the typical threats we see on the road. Bart Yasso in Indonesia, I believe...

One of my wife's favorite science fiction short stories is a satire on social equality written by the late Kurt Vonnegut. In the story, "Harrison Bergeron," the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful a member of society is, the more they are handicapped so no one person will feel inferior to another. The main character, Harrison, is exceptionally intelligent, strong & attractive; the Handicapper General forces him to wear eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, black caps over his teeth, forty pounds of birdshot around his neck, another 300 pounds of weight strapped to his body, a rubber ball on his nose...& headphones which play distracting noises.
At first, we laugh at the thought of a society which forces each of us to be equal by handicapping the more gifted; if we were better than someone else we would never willingly submit ourselves to such a regime. If we were less gifted we wouldn't mind being enhanced some, but we wouldn't feel right about the more gifted being handicapped.
Would we? On either account?
I was at a Rock n' Roll Marathon event & heard about a conversation between a Rock n' Roll staff member & an out-of-town participant asking about headphone use. The participant asked if headphones were going to be allowed on the course. The staffer decided, rather than give a yes-or-no answer, to find out exactly what made this participant tick:
Staffer - "Okay...let me ask you something. Do you know the name of this event?"
Participant - "Yes. It's the Rock n' Roll Marathon."
Staffer - "And you're from out of town?"
Participant - "Yes. Philadelphia."
Staffer - "So you flew here to run this event?"
Participant - "Yes. We've been here all week."
Staffer - "Did you use the discount registration code for the event?"
Participant - "No."
At this point, the staffer quickly estimated what the trip cost the participant & said: ", you're willing to spend thousands of dollars for a week at the Rock n' Roll Marathon, an event with some of the best live music this city has to offer, & you would prefer to listen to your own music...?"
How many times have we run races in headphones, never listening to the cheering of spectators, the sound of our own labored breathing as we run, the music playing from stereos in houses or on curbs or corners, or, if we spent a few (more) bucks at an event like RnR, there are bands playing local music for our pleasure at every mile? Running closer to the middle or back of the pack at races can often sound like a silent movie without the piano background; every runner is tuned into their own little world. No one talks to any one.
Yet, we tell our non-running friends we go to races to meet people.
So, we willingly handicap, isolate, ourselves on the course with 100 decibels of sound blaring into our ears, enough to drown the siren of the emergency vehicle taking the unfortunate runner who "crashed & burned" a mile away from us to the hospital...we might have passed without knowing they were in distress because we were in our own little world. Those same 100 decibels are only a little less damaging to our ears than standing next to our mother's Electrolux vacuum cleaner...right now. Over time we handicap ourselves more permanently; wrecking our hearing with long-term exposure to loud everything, until we can't hear even the most sublime of sounds.
Why? Because we seek pleasure & avoid pain. We want to go to our happy place. We want to detach ourself from the message our brain is sending. Timothy Noakes' Central Governor Theory of Endurance says the brain tells us to stop or slow down because our brain wants the glycogen our muscles burn as fuel for itself, as well as the heart & wants to keep us alive, even if we cannot run. Our brain is greedy. But when we detach ourself from the brain's "message center" which warns us of the damage we "might" do if we keep running, we also detach ourself from the same message center which warns us a threat (overtaking runner, bicyclist, mugger, automobile, etc.) is approaching from behind.
I hear the often rhetorical question, "well, what about folks who are deaf?" There are folks who are unable to hear, but as a result the senses of sight & touch have become more acute. Not so with those of us who still retain the ability to hear until we place headphone in ear. We can't see behind us & probably don't even think about looking because our happy place is better than anywhere we want to be at the moment.
We don't need a Handicapper General. Most of us do it to ourselves. Rather than be a Harrison Bergeron, willing to die as an unfettered person & release people from long-tolerated handicaps, we'd rather wallow in our equality & accept when others are shackled.

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