In a different life, not that long ago I’d spent most weekends travelling across Britain or, on occasions, flying across Europe taking part in Tae Kwon Do competitions (https://goo.gl/gx0bc
). Like most things that I do or happen to me, this too became subject to analyses and I became the guinea pig. So, I often asked myself “why?”
Why would someone who has a University education and a high-powered job, spent up to 16 hours a week sweating and feeling physical pain and then step onto a very public arena to engage in an activity that has some potential risks and no guaranteed outcome? I used to think that the reason is hard to explain. But that’s not true.
In my professional life, for all its challenges of deadlines, meetings, performance agreements and targets everything was controlled, examined, planned and strategized. More than that it was done for a purpose that was purely commercial and for organizations that kind ground on with a life of their own. There is a sterility in that vision that engages our professional skillsets perhaps but fails to set our minds on fire. And it is that fire that actually makes all the difference.
In stepping into a ring facing another fighter who wanted to win engaged parts of my brain in ways that made me feel instinctively alive. I became centered into the moment and the core of my existence in ways that cinematically Fight Club
) – “How much can you know about yourself if you have never been in a fight?”. This is a sentiment expressed a little differently in The Matrix Reloaded
when the Seraph says: “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.” (https://goo.gl/tFUmXH
Now most people here will think that the attraction is either in violence or in the sense of self that the being in the moment entails but the truth is something deeper. There is hard-wiring in us that actually yearns for violence: http://goo.gl/jZSTlb
. There is a psychological need to feel the edge of danger and the precipice of risk looking us in the eyes: http://goo.gl/uvvvgM
Whether we experience this vicariously, as spectators (http://goo.gl/kmMQJu
) or directly by actually engaging in a sport that entails some violence, the reasons lie in the moment of experienced controlled aggression (http://goo.gl/549RIr
). There is a part of us that becomes connected. Connected not just with our deepest self but also with those we face, as opponents. That connectivity becomes a catalyst through which insights emerge about who we are, what we are prepared to do. What we really believe in and how we believe in what we think we believe.
For those who think that aggression is a default human mode or an evolutionary leftover psychologist Alfie Kohn (https://goo.gl/Y3Eny4
) suggests otherwise: http://goo.gl/pjm3Tr
. He also opens up the possibility that it is only be exploring the pathways of aggression (neural and otherwise) that we find ourselves able to contemplate true peace.
That’s a notion that is backed by martial arts teachings like Zen Buddhism (http://goo.gl/Bk9u33
) and Bushido (https://goo.gl/7XsgrI
). Boxers and fighters are amongst the most disciplined people on the planet. And, from a neural pathways point of view, gamers frequently experience the intense engagement and release (http://goo.gl/S8EMZ
) associated with violent activities and uncertain outcomes.
All of this goes a long way towards explaining the seeming paradox of Calico Storico (http://goo.gl/xqYulI
) a ‘sport’ that has to be seen to be believed and possibly be experienced to be understood.
We yearn for that feeling of aliveness because in the connection we find something that is missing from the mundane nature of everyday life. The paying of bills, the doing of one’s duties, the obeying of laws and the going-to-bed-waking-up and repeat cycle, leave each of us with a sense that life has to be about something more than this. Something greater. Something different.
Without forming a secret Fight Club or joining an ancient game where people knock seven bells out of each other there is an easier way to feel the same sense of connection, the same firing up of neural pathways that leads to an outward/inward feeling of introspection and public performance (which is what fighters have to do) – and incredibly enough it’s supplied by social media: http://goo.gl/BSWy6f
Now the articles on this mostly sound warning bells: http://goo.gl/WqHJj6
(and it is +Sandra Watson
who surfaced this: https://goo.gl/5gDcII
) – just as they would if we could all join aggressive, competitive sports.
I stopped competing at the turn of the century, by choice, and for the next seven years I toyed on and off with the idea of getting back into it. I was really missing the sensations it gave me, the sense of purpose, the feeling of being connected, part of something greater and the pressure it placed upon me to think, change, adapt and develop. Social media slowly took over the role. Replacing, by degrees, the sense of purpose, introspection, risk and empowerment that I used to feel when fighting.
The connectivity revolution we experience today the ability we have to connect, think, argue, discuss, research, share, explore and understand is changing us: http://goo.gl/FjL7lS
and our societies: http://goo.gl/v132gn
. It is contributing to reducing vandalism: http://goo.gl/erQP4e
, gang-violence: http://goo.gl/FDFRfB
and even more traditional modes of violence: http://goo.gl/feSC2R
Aggressive sports and violent video games, paradoxically, make us less violent. More sociable. Better disciplined and more aware. Social media is key to doing all of this, also. As Clay Shirky says in his TED Talk, this is “social capital” - https://goo.gl/QWcKbh
. We can all now take it for granted and we are, truly, “all of us, together”.
So, we went today from contact sports and violent video games to social media connections and this shared conversation we so excitedly share today. Quite a leap, maybe. The point is that there is no aspect of human behavior that does not have a sound basis in a need that is neurobiological which can be analyzed, understood (however imperfectly) and its effects charted. Its results tabulated. Its roots explored.
Are we changing because of all this? Damn right we are! Whether this is all good or all bad is still open to some debate. Key however is that all this is happening now on a very public platform, to each of us. To all of us. The adventure has just began. I hope you’ve already started drinking some coffee and you have sufficient amounts of donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake to last you all through the day. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.