Amid these unprecedented times, where the news cycle is on overtime, an article passes by that has the power to make us stop and reflect back to seasons past, and look forward to seasons future. This came via Triathlon BC member and Race Director, Lorin Inglis.

This Week’s Philosophy, by  R . L. Inglis, Race Director of the Lake Windermere Aquathlon

What could the French Revolution possibly have to do with triathlon?  In terms of the revolution itself – probably not much… unless you are thinking in terms of a triathlon event as a rebellion against tyranny or the monarchy. In which case the events of the French revolution are relevant; but what about the ideas that fueled the revolution in the first place?

Specifically the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The opening, and often misinterpreted line of Rousseau’s most well known work – the “Social Contract” reads – “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”. Read as a libertarian view most often, Rousseau was thinking more in a communitarian sense. The distinction is important because the freedom he had in mind is not a freedom to act but a freedom from the competitive, self interested nature imposed on us through being born into the trappings of society.

Perhaps the most interesting insight Rousseau had was a quasi-psychological description of two kinds of basic human nature. According to Rousseau, human beings are by nature compassionate and care for one another in a non-competitive way. He calls this human nature Amour de soi, or “self-love”. This he reports predates societies. Think of it like a kind of speculative anthropology of inmate human nature – if there is such a thing. The second kind of human nature which Rousseau talks about comes only through living in certain types of societies. Amore Propre, interpreted sometimes as “self-centredness” is the tendency to be disappointed and discontented by always being forced into competition with others. Effectively this can consume individuals when they are required to live under the structures imposed on them by the societies themselves. Amore Propre for Rousseau is, in a sense always driving people to compare themselves to others – akin to the “hedonic treadmill” of wanting more or better without attainable satisfaction.

Triathlon no doubt brings out the best in people – the sport is known for it’s legacy of inclusion, support and celebration of the achievements of others. This is Amour de soi at it’s finest! Many compassionate moments are seen and unseen in the sport of triathlon and self-challenge is what drives most folks forward.

Occasionally, most people experience something like Amore Propre. Maybe when having an off day in the pool for example. Or wishing we were just a little bit faster – we might even look at the lane next to us and start comparing our performance in relation to others. Competition brings out performance, but it can also bring feelings of inadequacy or other negative emotions. If unchecked this can ruin an athletes experience of the most important part of the sport – the meaningful relationships and moments of human compassion which give our sport the reputation it has! This summer, remember Rousseau as you are setting up transition – I encourage you to enjoy your “A” race in a Amour de soi frame of mind – if you’ve finished the race and enjoyed yourself, congratulations – you’ve won! That’s the same “freedom” Rousseau had in mind.