Thursday, July 9, 2009

Now?


The power of now has worn thin.

I am post operation day 3 and still have a considerable amount of swelling with some oozing blood and pain. I am back on caffeine and entirely fed up with not running. Today is only the third day, but the sun has come out and I want to strip down to my short shorts and hit the trails for a good workout. How will I survive until Tuesday?

I will survive by trying to organize my thoughts around labels.

'I am not what I think I am, I am not what you think I am, I am what I think you think I am' One of the few quotes that I retained from Sociology class at university. With regards to labels I have the labels that I think others see in me from a distance moving to the labels that I see in myself.

My Labels
  • White, Male, Middle Class (first impression)
  • White, Gay Male, Professional, Runner (on closer inspection)
  • Runner, Gay, OT (the ones that stick)
For me labels are a tool to identify individuals with similar interests and beliefs. Within each of these labels there are also sub sections. In the label of runner we can break it down into many smaller sections.

Runner
  • Elite vs Recreational
  • Distance vs Middle Distance vs Sprinter vs Trail Runner vs Triathlete
  • Fair Weather vs Hardcore
In the running world I would be described as an elite distance hardcore runner, and this is how I see myself. These labels enable me to see others and get an idea of who to train with and also the individuals I have a common bond with. Already, if I see a runner I know we have something in common, but it is only a certain few runners who truly understand the commitment and drive necessary to become an elite runner. I know I will have much more in common with an elite runner then a recreational fair weather runner.

I am also gay and there are very many labels to categorize the homos. This is where there is a divergence between what I see in myself and what others label. I think I am a jock (I am very athletic, duh) though if you were to ask 9 of 10 gay guys they would identify me as a twink (although I am getting a little old to be a twink...). This is where labels can be difficult.

There is also a difference between the labels we are born with and those we choose to take on. I did not choose to be born white, middle class, Catholic or gay but I did choose to be a runner and an OT. In my psyche I think of myself as a runner then gay and all the rest. I do not usually think of myself as white but that is because I am of the majority. It seems like it is the labels we do not choose that have the most resonance in society and the labels we choose that have the most importance to our inner selves. There is also a contextual influence. On a track at a workout it becomes quite apparent that I am an elite runner, not gay, not OT. In the hospital I am an OT, though I may be thinking I would rather be running. Over time at work I would become the gay OT or the runner OT to separate from the others. The key label though is OT.

So the question remains, are labels good or bad? As with the labels we put on our spices or files at work, labels help us organize information into groups to identify what is going to be useful and what we do not need at the moment or what we can throw in the trash. Labels help us to identify certain individuals who will either help us in our attempt to reach our goals or who will hinder our attempts at personal growth and improvement.

A danger with labels is they can be inaccurate or stigmatizing and thus turn us away from individuals who may provide a great deal for us to learn. For example, gay. There are some who continue to believe that gay is a choice and bad. I am sure there are people in the running community who would not want to train with me or support my running because of this label. They may affix to this label an image of 'immoral' behaviour that would not be in keeping with the image promoted by running. In reality I am one of the most focused, driven and dedicated athletes I know. As for the immoral gay, in university it was the straight members of my team (everyone except for me) who made me look like a chaste monk. Because some people may think I would be a bad influence on their little running life they may not train with me, solely because I am gay (thankfully I have not met anyone like this).

To conclude, I understand the utility of labels to organize society into groups of like minded individuals. I also see the danger of labels to separate and divide society. There is also the risk of wrongly labeling individuals who one may learn a great deal from. I have been very fortunate to learn some of my greatest life lessons from people with labels that I once stigmatized. Working in mental health enabled me to meet many people who taught me about the strength of the human spirit despite pervasive illness leading to marginalization from mainstream Canadian society. People who I would have never communicated with because of their outward appearance became real and genuine. When I looked beyond the label 'crazy' or 'addict' I saw father/mother, friend, survivor and most importantly person. With running I have learned my biggest lessons from those who may not be the fleetest of foot but have more passion for running then can be imagined. Maybe the key with labels to use them to identify like groups in society but also to mix up the labels and learn something from someone on the other side of the spice cupboard.

Happy Training!

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