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09 August 2010

Defectiveness, part 2 (and maybe some answers)

This is a followup to a previous post, Dealing with defectiveness.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours over midday volunteering at a cycling event about an hour west of town. There were actually three races, each with a different length, but on the same roads. I was with the same online group that organized the camping trip I went on last summer, and some of those people volunteered at this event. We were staffing an aid station, where race participants could grab water/Gatorade while pedaling by, or stop for food and a break in addition to hydrating.  The weather didn't cooperate, and the longest of the races was called off.  This meant far fewer cyclists, and so we were overstaffed.  This also meant that I got a chance to look around, and think about the group a little.  I also was able to think about the whole defectiveness issue, and where it was coming from.

In my previous post, I noted that there wasn't a buddy system, and people didn't really look out for each other-- and now, I think I see why that's the case.  People in the group do the things they do, for themselves.  They train, they explore, they travel, but they do it because that's what they enjoy doing.  If they can be around other people that enjoy doing those things, that's good, but they don't do triathlons or marathons or hike Yosemite to get moral support or even to make friends.  It's an individual pursuit.

No one from the group ever went out of their way to make me feel welcome, or to ask if I was doing okay or needed help, or even how things in life were going.  They were never rude, or exclusionary-- anyone can sign up for, and participate in events-- and sometimes, people even borrow or loan equipment.  It's not that these are bad people that you don't want to be near.  It is the case that you're really on your own.  Once you sign up to do something, it's your responsibility to figure out what you need for equipment, knowledge, skill, ability, and fitness.  It is also your responsibility to get up that difficult hill, or navigate that stretch of whitewater, or know how much water you need.

Listening to people talk yesterday, it became clear that the group is not a support group, or an educational group.  If you're feeling down, it's not the group's responsibility to make you feel better.  If you want to learn tips for training for your first cycling race, you can train next to us but we won't be your trainer.  If you want to watch us and learn from us, that's fine, but we're not going to teach you.

At summer camp, when I was a kid, we had the buddy system for swimming (usually the most dangerous activity we officially participated in).  It was your job to keep an eye on your buddy, and his job to keep an eye on you.  You didn't necessarily have to save them, but it was on you to at least yell for help if/when necessary.

During my military service, as a first-term airman, I always needed help-- there's simply a lot going on even in slow times, and a lot that you have to know and understand.  The rule always was, you have an immediate supervisor, and that's who you talk to first with questions and concerns.  That person is responsible for making sure you're trained, equipped, and ready to fight.  Your job is doing what you're told, and doing it right-- and more important, putting forth the effort to learn how.  It was a two way street, and it was part of the broader concept of teamwork.  If you were having difficulty there was remedial training available in unlimited supply-- there was always trash to be picked up and toilets to be scrubbed.  Hopefully, you had a good supervisor who was also good at being a mentor.  Being one didn't automatically mean that the other was true.

My feelings of defectiveness have broader effects; if I feel defective because I can't bike 20 miles as fast as all of the people I know that bike, then I don't want to bike at all. If I can't run as fast or as far, or I get tired faster, or I'm not as well coordinated because I don't train like they do and I don't do yoga, then I don't want to run my two miles or do my own weight training.   If I feel defective because I can't do some of the things that other people can, it feels a lot like not being able to do things that other airmen could-- or that certain members of my family could do.  It brings on feelings of weakness, of being smaller, slower, less worthy, less important.

My experience with the group, to be fair, isn't all bad.  I've had the opportunity to go and do things that I might not have done on my own.  It's easier, I think, to sign up for an activity that has details worked out than to have to work out all of the details on my own.  There are times when if it came down to picking where I wanted to go for a weekend, I'd just get frustrated and not pick anywhere at all.  So yes, I'm going to sign up for more events as time and money permits.  Buuut, I'm going to do these things because I like doing them, and I'm going to make it a point to not rely on anyone else; it's on me to make sure I'm within my skill level and experience, if it's an activity where that's important.

I've read in a number of places that the measure of one's mental health is the extent to which a person can feel good when they are alone-- if there's one thing I'm taking from all of this, it's that I need to do more that is for myself, without regard to how I measure up when put alongside others.  So instead of going camping to possibly make friends, I'm going camping because being in the woods does something for my inner peace. 

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