Forgive The Weak

"Forgive the Weak."

C.H., an athlete of mine, wore this T-shirt from the gym of a friend of in Northeast Ohio to training frequently. But it took me a moment for it to really sink in. But when it did, I begged him for one of my own to wear. Kudos to whoever made it.

The deeper significance, to my way of thinking, is far from a condescending touting of one's own strength. If it is taken that way it becomes a cheap, sarcastic and superficial boast. "I will forgive your insignificance around my power." Boo. But if it is absorbed LITERALLY, it speaks to the individual quest for personal improvement and striving for excellence.

We, who have worked for strength and power in our lives, should definitely be proud of ourselves. But in no way should that reflect on others who have chosen not to. Your own success says nothing about someone else's. Nor for a lack thereof. Your life is your life, and theirs belongs to them.

I see too many strong people basking in some artificial limelight of their own achievement. This only occurs up until they are standing next to someone who has eclipsed them! Oh, they shrink right down and de-puff their chests when they have to interact with a superior athlete. But strangely, when they return to their home gym and are around some intermediates or beginners, their chests puff back out and the condescension floats back to the surface like a buoyant turd.

My perspective is this: you can only act like the big guy if you are standing by people smaller than you. When it is you that is the lesser, where does all your judgment and bravado go? You have to eat it, that's where! You have to swallow it down and try not to choke! Perhaps if you are the best in the world you can remain a bombastic prick all the time. That is until somebody breaks YOUR record! But why pursue this folly? Why not just choose to be magnanimous to those who are a bit beneath you in accomplishment and working their way up? Why lord it over them in the first place? Have you forgotten when you were where they are? Don't chastise them for not being as strong as you. Just be proud of your own work without COMPARISON.

This is a key point: life IS NOT a competition. Whoa! How can I say that? Have I never heard of "survival of the fittest"? Did I not compete on the world stage? WTF? Doesn't sport REQUIRE us to compete?

OK. Let me explain. First, we no longer live in an environment that drives the evolution of our species. When is the last time you had to fight someone in your neighborhood for food? Right. YOU NEVER HAVE DONE THAT. When was the last time someone tried to kick you out of your "cave" so they could live there? Yeah. NEVER. When was the last time you did not have a bed to sleep in, under a roof with running clean water and stocked to the rafters with food? When was the last time someone tried to kill you? Or take your wife? 

My point is that we can not use our evolutionary past as a scapegoat for the myth that everything is a competition. It may be an oversimplification to say that we do not compete anymore. But I did not say that. I said not EVERYTHING is a competition anymore. And it's not.

But here's the rub: our brains are hard-wired for it! From when we had to either steal our neighbors' food or starve ourselves. We are the descendants of the greediest of our ancestors. That is the survival of the fittest. The cruelest, the toughest, the most deceitful and unforgiving of the bunch. In a word, the most selfish.

"Sorry about your genetics, pal, but that fruit is mine now, and you are not big enough to stop me." Again, I'm overstating my point. What I want you to see is that although food, water, shelter, safety, and mates are no longer in short supply, and we don't have to compete for any of that, we still have a vestige of the drive to dominate and compare. It's leftover and it is part of our nature.

We create hierarchy EVERYWHERE in our society. So we continue to compete at things that don't really apply. We have hot dog eating contests for crying out loud. Cooking contests? Really? Dancing contests? In our society, we crave competition so much we will CREATE a contest for almost anything. And we have. This is a misplacement of the drive to survive.

Since our survival is practically a guarantee, we now CHOOSE what we compete at. We compete to see who can make more money. Even though we have everything we need to live, we spend that money on shit we don't need at all. A new phone EVERY FUCKING TIME ONE COMES OUT, for example.

If you don't have a boat and your neighbors do, you fall down in the hierarchy. Yet you live MILES from the water! You don't NEED a boat! It is an artificial competition. If you think carefully about it... most of them are. We made them up. Sports are certainly NOT necessary. They came from a time when military training was essential for survival. But the U.S. hasn't been invaded for a long time. Sports are a competition of design, not of necessity.

That's OK, though. I'm simply advocating for us not to get too uppity about our achievements in them as if they somehow made us BETTER PEOPLE. They don't. So why not forgive the weak? Why look askance on them? WHAT THE FUCK CAN YOU DO WITH AN 880 SQUAT THAT SOMEONE CAN'T DO WITH A 440 SQUAT? What use is it? I'll tell you. It sets up the hierarchy, that's what. Nothing more.

They asked one of the richest men in America what would be enough money and would it ever be "enough"? He said, "Money? That's just how we keep SCORE!"

A 500-pound bench has no more practical use than a 440 bench, really. But it sets up a hierarchy. It helps us "keep score." BUT WHY? Well, I suppose human nature. A 500-pound bencher is no better than a 440-pound bencher... except in lifting a bar to arm's length from the chest. What does that MEAN? Not too much.

Where I am going with all this is to get some distance from the trap of comparison. And false competition. I have written before about the true nature of competition in sport. It is internal and personal. The only comparison is toward one's self. If we make this adjustment, we should never be tempted to scorn the weaker among us.

Believe me, I don't wish to BE one, but I'm not going to berate them for not being as strong as me. Oh, I'm still going to pursue strength, no question, but not to be stronger than someone else, only to be stronger than I used to be. No comparisons to others. Just to me.

In The Art of War, we get a better version of competition. Specifically of winning and dominance. If we are competing to "win," Sun Tzu gives us a revolutionary definition. I will paraphrase: "The greatest victory is not to destroy your enemy. The highest achievement is to TRANSFORM your enemy." If you crush them, they are through. But if you win them over to you, they are now WITH YOU!

To come full circle, to disdain the weak is to feel superior to them. It is a comparison and a competition. And where does it get you? And if you are stronger, have you won? But instead of this model, what about maintaining our competitive drive full force, but apply it only within?

Instead of belittling the weakness of others, actively pursue a greater victory as Sun Tsu advised by bringing them UP TO US to join us, transforming their weakness into strength. If you are always comparing, you might feel lesser if someone catches up to you and therefore wish to keep them down. But that does NOT make you any stronger. Holding others back to pretend that you have improved is nonsense.

It is a comparison that can lead you to complacency. If you only judge your success by how you do in relation to others, then you are dependent on them and not yourself. You always look big if you only stand next to smaller people.

But is that why you are strength training? Is it for personal progress or attention from others? If it is for you alone, then you should have no problem with other people's success or lack. But if you are always comparing yourself to what others do, you are trapped forever. And you will find it easy to mock and berate the weaker among us. Just tend your own garden and make it bloom. Being helpful to others on the same path is as much a victory as setting a new PR.



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