To Train Or Not To Train

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My sister and brother-in-law run marathons.  No, wait, they are elite marathon-running machines.  By next weekend, they will have run 150 marathons between them in just a few years, including Ironmans and ultramarathons, in 39 states and at least 7 countries.  They lead training groups for Team to End AIDS and enjoy a loyal following of running enthusiasts and friends.  So you can imagine my honor when they recently told me, “You could totally run a marathon, Cathy.  You’re already more fit than a lot people who start training.”

For a moment I actually considered it, because wouldn’t that be so cool, to enter that elite circle?  Then I quickly remembered: I. Hate. Running.  …For now.  But it got me thinking recently–talking politics may be like marathon training.  Some people really like it and do it well (by ‘well’ I mean they are informed, articulate, respectful, and engaging with people from all points of view—their discourse is elevated).  They resemble my sister and brother-in-law: athletes who consistently perform at the top of their training, with few or no injuries, leading others to follow in similar aspirations.

Other people, however, would sooner feed themselves through a wood chipper than strap on a pair of running shoes, or engage in political discussions.

Most of us are somewhere in the middle, I suspect.  I can run a few miles with my trainer if she makes me–the conversation and scenery distract me and the time goes by faster.  And I know I can slow down or take a rest if I have to–it’s safe.  But I have many other preferred exercise activities.  Could we consider talking politics as the elite marathoning of communication?  It is so hard to do well!

When I think of long distance running my mouth goes dry.  I get short of breath and my knees hurt already.  I feel the incredible slog, one heavy step after another–not at all like what I imagine my family feels, bounding weightlessly like antelopes toward their next PR.  I experience a version of the fight-or-flight response, a visceral sensation of threat: I’ll have blisters everywhere, I’ll never make it to the end, they’ll have to carry me, I’ll have a heart attack and die!

Maybe some people have a similar reaction to politics?  I don’t know enough, it’s too complicated.  It’s overwhelming, I’ll look ignorant, people will judge and shame me before I can even finish a thought.  It’s all so emotional, I can’t handle that, it will only escalate into conflict, my relationships will all be at risk, I’ll lose all my friends!

As you may have read, I have been trying to get some conservative friends to engage face to face.  I am genuinely curious about their points of view; I want to understand.  I want to practice my skills—curiosity, openness, empathy, identifying shared interests, withholding judgment.  Two invitations were initially met with a non-response.  After a follow up call or two, I am scheduled to meet one set of friends for dinner this week, and the other said he was too busy.  I feel like I’m dragging them out running when they would much rather play golf or go bowling.

I have realized: we don’t all have to keep up with every day’s new political freak shows.  We don’t all need to be the debate champions of our particular ideology.  Not everybody has to be a marathoner.

HOWEVER:

We all need exercise.  The body is built to move.  Regular physical activity, as we all know, reduces our risks of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Did you also know it can decrease depression, dementia, and even cancer?  So pick your sport—just do some kind of movement every day!

Similarly, even if we don’t all talk politics, we all need effective communication skills, especially in the arenas of conflict resolution, negotiation, parenting (which encompasses them all), and the like.  We are social beings—we only survive by cooperating and living well within our tribes, and by tribes living well among one another.  That can only happen if we practice getting along.

So if you’re not a runner/marathoner, what do you do?  What is your thing, how often do you engage, and what keeps you coming back?  If you hate talking politics, how else are you already a great communicator?

Maybe you’re a natural at getting your toddler/tween/teen to see the wisdom of the rules and getting their buy-in to follow them.

Maybe you can always help your boss and coworker iron out their differences because you can understand both sides (are you in HR?).

Maybe you like to debate the merits of the Marvel Comic Universe vs. DC—and you could argue both sides because it’s just more interesting that way.

We all have areas where we shine, where we contribute to the tribe through words and actions.

I have picked up some tips along the way:

  1. Validate people’s feelings, even if you don’t agree with their position or behavior.
  2. Stay open to the 2% truth of an opposing philosophy or idea.
  3. Withhold judgment on the whole person even though they espouse an ideology you despise, at least until you know from multiple encounters that they have no shred of kindness or humanity in them.
  4. Look for what you have in common with people, and choose to focus there more than on how you differ.

So even if you’re not an elite running machine like my sister and brother-in-law, or you’re not your community’s foremost political pundit, know that your other training matters.

I may complete a marathon someday…  Never say never.  For now I’m happy to stick with my TRX, kettle bells, 7 minute and Betty Rocker workouts (once again, I have no financial interests in any of these businesses).  I appreciate my family’s invitation to run, and I respectfully decline at this time.  Similarly, I will try to be more mindful about inadvertently pressuring people to talk politics.  It’s never meant to be adversarial, only a bid for connection—I’m looking for training buddies!

I don’t need everybody to talk politics.  But I do need everybody to practice excellent communication, especially in political discourse.

We all need that.

11 thoughts on “To Train Or Not To Train

  1. I have mixed feelings about engaging in political discussions. It becomes quickly apparent that most people don’t have the rhetorical skills to do it in a way that advances a point. I think engaging on any level with people with different beliefs is a good thing, but that politics is the least appetizing way to do it.

    As for running, I admire people who can do the long hauls, but there is only so much time in a day. I’ll give one hour a day over to running or strength training, but beyond that, I’d rather read or write!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Plenty to think about here, Cathy. Conversation to find commonality sounds good, but I confess it doesn’t particularly appeal to me right now. Recent months seem to have fostered an atmosphere where truth no longer matters. A lot of people (on every side of any controversial issue) seem to feel they can say whatever they want if it supports their position—from exaggeration to downright falsehood. Truth is optional. Nuance is unwelcome. I’m tired of talking. How we choose to live speaks louder than our words. I think you’ve caught me on a cynical day–hopefully this is temporary. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Donna,
      Thanks for this honest comment. I share your frustration at the decline of integrity in discourse we witness these days. It’s exhausting, for sure. I also like your hopefulness–that you allow your cynicism today and anticipate that it may not be permanent. So taking your advice from last week, I am trying to focus on the best thing that could happen! 😀 I did post that on the wall in front of my desk, by the way. 😉 I know you live kindly, compassionately, and generously. Nice to know you! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since I posted my comment, I’ve been thinking about it and revising it in my head. I know that conversation is essential if we are ever to get to a place of collaboration or constructive understanding. And to have those conversations, all parties must be willing to listen with an open mind and without judgment. Too many people I talk with these days are simply parroting the party line, making unsubstantiated accusations, and engaging in name-calling and put-downs. I don’t see them changing anytime soon (or ever). For many, it’s easier to let others think for them and then just say what those others are saying. They may be essentially good people, but right now I have neither the energy nor the desire to engage or spar with them. Maybe it’s a matter of self-care… Thanks, Cathy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Donna, I think you express here what most people find the most frustrating about talking politics. I think that’s the reason why I want my conversation to be about the what of politics itself, but the how. I want us to step back and look around, at the vitriol, the impulsivity of insults and reactiveness of rhetoric. And I totally understand the self-care piece, too–we cannot engage well if we feel depleted. It’s like the choir analogy I read soon after the inauguration. It’s okay for some of us to take a breath, because others of us will hold the note. And when we have reoxygenated, we can return and let someone else take the break. I know you contribute positivity in your world, regardless of whether you ever talk politics again!

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  3. Ah, but everyone *won’t* practice good communications skills, so you might think about turning that Need into a Want.
    I would be leery, too, if some friend asked me to have a political discourse–even if we were on the same political page. Same with religious beliefs. I understand beliefs are not truths, not facts, and so I keep them private–unless I’m in friendly waters. I don’t troll Facebook, watch or read news. I don’t need the additional aggravation.
    It’s the same with my exercise. I swim laps, which is a solitary, meditative activity. I’m looking for peace, not another skill to hone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sandy Sue!
      I always appreciate your comments and point of view. I hear you–if we chased every skill that we could possibly hone, and especially the ones that cause us grief, life would be quite a slog…
      Respectfully, I assert that it is precisely because most people won’t practice good communication skills that we all need it that much more. So for those of us who do choose to enter the morass of political discourse, I call for an elevated level of engagement! And I will try harder to not pressure people who choose to stay out.
      But one question: You wrote ‘unless I’m in friendly waters.’ What would that look/feel like, and how likely do you think we can create more spaces like that, as a society or culture? 😀 Have a great rest of your week!

      Liked by 1 person

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