Discipline without coercion. Is it possible for individuals? For communities? Dare we believe that without obligation, people will make efforts to do their best and work toward the common good? Are people who do that “heroes”?
We dangle punitive measures and capitalistic rewards in front of the masses and hope that will encourage us to be model citizens, and then we have to deal with the greedy monsters that evolve wondering “What’s in it for me?” If I am of the 1% and super-wealthy, what incentive do I have to share? And what is the percentage of the 99% who hope that one day, they will become super-wealthy also and so feel no inclination to put restrictions on the rich? How many people are likely to come to a sense that they have “enough” all on their own and turn their surplus over to others? And when will that sense of “enough” kick in? What standard of living do we feel entitled to? What would it feel like to say, “This is all I need. I am not afraid to trust that I have enough”? Would it feel like freedom?
How do you discipline yourself without feeling a sense of obligation? Do you eat healthy foods because you want to? Or because some outside influence is holding up a consequence or reward? Do you make music because some authority is telling you to practice or for the sheer joy of it? Do you do what you do out of passion or fear?
On our first date, Steve played a kind of “twenty questions” game with me. I was trying to guess his three heroes in order to get to know him better. He maintains that each of these inspirational figures have a passion for something and demonstrate it joyfully. The first one is David Attenborough of the BBC Natural History Unit, groundbreaking writer and presenter of nature programs. The second is Julia Child, The French Chef. I was in total accord to this point, and also loved that they are easy to imitate in voice and mannerism to add levity to any undertaking (and we do this frequently). The third one was rather tough to guess, mostly because he wasn’t human. “An athlete” was about as close as I got. Finally, Steve led me to thinking about equestrian athletes, and I immediately thought of Secretariat. I found that rather a head-scratcher, though. How could a horse be a hero? And then he showed me the youtube clip of the final race in the1973 Triple Crown. It still makes him cry.
A horse cannot be coerced by the promise of fame and fortune, can it? There was no whipping, no carrot on a stick. Secretariat ran for the pure joy of running, it would seem. Feeling the power of his legs, the wind in his mane, the freedom of doing what he was born and bred and loved to do that day. Did he have a reward afterward? Did he develop a taste for winning? I suppose you could debate the emotions of a horse forever and never learn anything conclusive. You could also debate whether or not his race was something that created “good”. Many people were undoubtedly uplifted; just listen to the audio on the tape. His grace and beauty are captivating. And maybe a bunch of people were making money off of it, but the horse wasn’t. For that reason, it seems rather pure to me.
So what would it mean for you and me to be the heroes of our own lives? To be the best we could be not out of obligation or fear of reprisal or for monetary gain, but just for the joy of living out our own passion and interest, for the love of it? What would it be like to allow that to be our reward, our life work, and not ask fame or fortune from it? Would we share any surplus of our efforts? What if we all lived like that? Would we be able to balance the table top, enjoy sustainability and equality, as a community and perhaps as a planet? Is this a utopian ideal and totally unrealistic?
Probably. But I would love to feel the wind in my hair, too…