By Christopher Cudworth
All of us get our political, religious and social views from somewhere. Some are formed in youth with the manner in which our parents raise us. Yet the world is full of people who became conservative after their parents raised them to be liberal. The converse it true. So the old nature vs. nurture debate rages on.
I maintain that the sports of running and riding are by nature a liberal enterprise. For example, the first definition of the word “liberal” goes like this:
Liberal: Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
From the moment I started running there was a sense of liberty in every step. Because running and cycling are solo activities, there is a high degree of individualism involved. There is also a call to break free from the constraints of expectations, for example. Conventional or orthodox training methods are designed tested, refined or discarded. The dogma of yesterday becomes the pariah of today. Running and riding are also liberal because the conservative athlete who never takes risks may never reach their potential.
There are traditions in running and riding of course. One glance at the website velominati.com gives hint that there is always a tendency to create an orthodoxy by which others should abide. Yet those who run and ride naturally chafe against the constraints of too many rules. The second definition of “liberal” affirms these tendencies:
Liberal: Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Those who are intolerant of others in their sport will usually find themselves running and riding alone. Judging others by race or sex or orientation is simply stupid if you run and ride, because it creates blind spots in your own perspective.
Pluse, the beauty of sports is diversity. That leads us to the third definition of liberal:
Liberal: Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
Liberalism is a worldview that sets forth ideals for tolerance and openness and is characterized in both the acceptance of others and the effort to reach out and help other people. These principles of liberalism hold true in all walks of life, from social to religious to political purposes. Another definition:
Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.
Politically, liberals tend to believe in social policies that support others and provide a social safety net for the disadvantaged and poor.
Socially, liberals make an effort to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Religiously, liberals embrace practices that invite people into the fold. One of the leading bleeding heart liberals and do-gooders in history is none other than Jesus Christ.
Other liberal faith leaders include Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama (a liberal tradition passed along through generations) and John Lennon. All these leaders “ran the race” of liberalism with fervor, setting examples of courage and fully giving of yourself to a cause.
Sound like any people you know who run and ride? Of course it does. Because that is how we run and ride. Liberally, if we can.
We also share our experiences through our rides and runs. We share leads and share drafts. That brings us to additional definitions of the word liberal:
Liberal: Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
Liberal: Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
There are some very conservative aspects the running and riding existence. The mileage you do is absolute and highly quantitative. Those are conservative qualities. They are also the limitations we seek to break through. That is no coincidence.
Know that no run or ride is conservatively literal in the sense that it can only be translated in numbers. All the sensory and emotional qualities of running or riding defy strict categorization, which brings us to yet another definition of the word liberal:
Liberal: Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
But is running and riding an art or a science? The answer is yes, they fit both categories. Yet even the “traditional” arts and sciences of education are inherently liberal. That is, they are open to inquiry and education is thus a liberal enterprise. Similarly we give ourselves a liberal dose of education every time we run or ride. You are always learning something new. In fact you cannot bank on much of anything as an absolute when you head out the door. It’s just like leaving college. Your real education begins every time you try to use your education, and another definition of the word “liberal” comes to mind:
Liberal: Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.
One other definition of liberal needs to be addressed. That is the moral aspect of running and riding. We hearken back to the movie Personal Best starring Mariel Hemingway as a bisexual heptathlete to find the turning point where the world realized that athletes are not chaste or Victorian in their habits. In fact more than a few athletes are downright licentious, promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters.
As evidence it is well-known that the Olympic Village is one giant humpfest. With all that healthy energy flowing around the place, and all those gorgeous bodies at work, who can blame them? Liberal morals suit those who keep their bodies in shape.
All these factors have combined to generate a generally liberal outlook on life. Running and riding has positive effects on the mind that are known to combat afflictions ranging from depression to addiction. Rather than the conservative approach of medically pumping drugs into the system as an antidote, those who run and ride for mental health take the liberal approach of self-medication through exercise.
Liberal doses of enthusiasm
We crow about all this of course, because we’re enthusiastic. Some people find such liberal pronouncements annoying. Hence the conservative Wall Street Journal published a snarky reproach to runners (and by proxy, those who ride as well) in an article titled “Okay, you’re a runner. Get over it.” This is how the writer Chad Stafko characterized runners:
People want attention and crave appreciation. If you’re actually doing something like running—covering ground, staying healthy, almost even having fun—what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire? The lone runner is a one-person parade. Yay.
It might as well have said, “Okay, you’re a liberal. Get over it.” The sentiments and attitudes of disdain are the same. Anyone enjoying themselves or proclaiming their pending liberation in a public way is going to get hit hard by conservative factions who happen to object to any component of your existence. Forget that the rights of individuals to live as they choose in America has been denied, neglected or persecuted by society.
Resistance to authority and tradition, however justified it may be due to social constraints, is frowned upon by conservatives who hate the thought of change. That is especially true if it affects them in ways that require a change in their way of thinking. Hence the popularity of men like Rush Limbaugh, whose misogyny and racism is thinly disguised but immensely popular among conservative audiences who called themselves “dittoheads” to proclaim a rubber stamp of his disturbingly hateful language. Same goes for the quasi-conservative Bill O’Reilly and the deceptively charming Sean Hannity. All pretend they’re joking around while they go for the liberal jugular.
A liberal turnaround
It has been that way a long while, starting with conservative resistance to Black Power in the 1960s and Women’s Rights. Now we add Gay Rights to the Blacklist of conservative causes. Immigration rights. Social welfare programs. Medicare. Medicaid. Obamacare. The list of conservative hate targets grows wider by the minute it seems.
My liberal instincts and distrust of such an authoritarian, prejudicial approach to life were begun long ago when, as a mere child between the age of 5 and 12 I learned that running was one of the truly rare liberal absolutes in life. That is, it involved equal parts freedom and discipline, but its pursuit was a choice you made. And that made it a liberal enterprise, by definition.
Few Rules. Many Requirements. A liberal discipline.
You lived and died by your efforts, and it was honest work. The rules were few yet the requirements in effort and concentration were many. You had to have good character and not lie to yourself to succeed in running and riding, and you had to keep track of your achievements knowing that you would be judged solely on what you did tomorrow. You had to learn to trust your teammates yet know that on any given day, they could replace you in line.
Most of all, you learned that running and riding kept you open to new ideas, new friendships and new alliances. You could talk to God or commune with road or nature in equal quantity. You could share your world with people of different nationalities and learn that competition is healthy, but does not define a person in totality. In fact it is in losing that you sometimes learn the most about yourself. And in sacrifice. Giving yourself over and up for others is a noble enterprise and a liberal absolute.
Does that last part circle all the way back around to conservative principles? Indeed it does. And that is the point of this essay. We are not so far apart, and those who run and ride know that most deeply. With that in mind, we will see you on the roads where tarsnakes try to trip us both up. For there is evil in the world, but that is a subject for another day.