28 May 2010

Let It Shine

A few days ago I was ensconced in a hotel room in a city I was told is not a friendly place to run. Matters not, I was – and am still – on injured reserve, taking a few days more to try to heal a nagging Achilles, now coupled with a strained hamstring as well, so said urban imprisonment is of minor concern. But even without running at the moment, this running habit of mine is generating positive results.

As I wrote the bulk of this article a few days back, the oversized hotel room television silently flashed a truly astounding assortment of crap that I just don’t see at home because when home, other things occupy my time rather than a brief spurt of traveling-time channel surfing. My amazement that anyone would watch some of this stuff is exceeded only by my amazement that anyone would film this stuff. Vacuous and vapid are words that come to mind. Yet people do watch it, else there would be no economic incentive to air it. And with each minute of viewing time, these twisted media versions of reality influence the viewers’ perceptions of normal. Is it any wonder our society in general chases materialistic and wasteful idols and has largely lost its way?

Every impression that reaches every person has an impact in some way, shape, or form. It’s a basic fact that drives our advertising-driven society. Each moment of impression might be explicitly accepted by the receiver, explicitly rejected, or more insidiously, implicitly unprocessed but not unnoticed. One might believe the impact of such unprocessed impressions is nil, but I hold instead that it is additive, slowly shaping reality as defined by perception. In a simple example, I may explicitly reject the notion of the driver passing by me doing eighty-five while another may explicitly accept that behavior as admirable, but the bulk of people probably don’t even think about it. After a while, their perception of acceptable reality is eighty-five on the highway.

Everything you do outside of closed doors is an influence on others. Each impression you make on others may be explicitly rejected, explicitly accepted, or unprocessed yet additive to the receiver’s perception of the world. In time, you do influence those around you, whether you want to or not. You have the choice of what kind of influence you want to impart.

My coworkers know I am an avid runner. I’ve had the blessing of supportive management who for years have not only encouraged my lifestyle, not only embraced my efforts to build this healthy activity into my busy appointment schedule, but have explicitly advertised my exploits, adding a slide to the usual staff meeting blather after most of my marathons. Many explicitly reject these impressions with the usual good-natured (and somewhat accurate) accusations of insanity. Some explicitly accept these impressions with recollections of their previous similar adventures or wishes of future imitation. Most leave them unprocessed, but they cannot fail to paint their view of reality.

And it works. After five years of running, I’ve seen a surprising – or perhaps not surprising – number of converts, all the way up to a co-worker who went from a casual jogger to completing Boston last month. I know I’m not entirely to blame for any of these converts. I also know I’m not entirely not to blame. For whatever blame I hold, I am proud of my influence and prouder still – for them – of the transformation I’ve seen in these people. It’s a positive influence. It’s leadership.

As it turns out, I’ve had a chance of late to turn these casual influences into something stronger. A manager also bitten by the running bug learned that I’m acting as race director for our club’s upcoming 10K. She encouraged me to send word of the event to our sales and engineering teams, both as a fun event and as a way to encourage some fitness on the team. Now, it’s one thing to passively lead by example and quite another to drag your peeps kicking and screaming into the pool. I wasn’t quite sure what their reaction would be.

I needn’t have worried. After a few days of radio silence to let the concept sink in, out spewed that typical sales force competitiveness. The trash talk started. The factions formed. I found the need to make the executive decision to add team scoring to our race, just to let these folks have their day, have their fun, and in the process, do something good for themselves. I was tickled pink.

You might think you run for yourself, and you do. But don’t forget for a moment that your running is a beacon of healthy living, shaping the perceived reality of those around you. Let it shine.

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