So what lessons had I learned through my few examples:
- Avoiding meat (beef, chicken, and pork) during Lent season. Two lessons here. The first one was the obvious religious view on Lenten sacrifices. The second was how vegetarians are viewed. I eat meat. Lots of it. And I know firsthand how vegetarians are viewed by meat-eaters. Vegetarians are seen as extremists. And so are those who follow some religious custom of avoiding meat. OK, so the Pope gave Catholics a "rule" to follow, trying to stimulate the fishing industry a few hundred years ago. So what? I don't give up meat because I detest eating animals, or because of some Catholic guilt. But to those who don't get to hear my own personal reasoning, I'm one of those extremists: liberal vegetarian or guilt-ridden blind-following Catholic.
- Avoiding alcohol while training for a marathon. If you didn't hear me the first time, I like beer. But at parties and gatherings for the better part of 14 months, I didn't drink alcohol (well except for that one shot at Grandma Jay's funeral). What I could not believe or understand was how over-the-top my friends were at trying to get me to drink at these parties. What difference did it make to them? Why did they care if I wasn't drinking with them?
- Not having a television for 2 months. One would have thought that unplugging a television was equal to unplugging from society. Few could comprehend what life was like without TV for that long. No one could converse with me about some weekly drama TV show that was on the previous night. Or some gossip show. Or worse yet...a reality show. I wasn't able to participate in those conversations....so what else could we possibly talk about?
- Sleeping on the floor for 2 years. Luxury is often confused with necessity. (Link to Luxury Versus Survival post series.) I confuse them myself from time to time. But this bed-versus-floor issue was actually quite fun for me to talk about. I called my challengers the "Princess and the Pea." Why on earth would a grown man with a job and house sleep on the floor? The jokes about me being a hillbilly or crazed survivalist rang with a shade of truth about how others felt about the issue.
- Competing in strenuous physical contests. Few understand the reasons why competitors volunteer and pay money to partake in physically demanding contests. Marathons. Triathlons. Adventure races. CrossFit challenges. StrongMan events. SWAT competitions. Some argue the risks of injury or medical complications. But to those who participate, the risk is small compared to the reward. But unless one participates, it's hard to explain in mere words what the reward even is. To many who are not physically active, the participants in strenuous and/or endurance events are over-the-top.
- Leading a church youth group. Religion is taboo. That's what society is being programmed to think. By whom? I'm not exactly sure. But there are strict rules about prayer in school and teaching restrictions about evolution versus Creation. Somewhere along the way, separation of church and state has turned simply to severing church from common society all together. So now, the movement has created a climate that mutes those with a strong committed faith. It's as if those believers are forced to explain themselves as to why they believe....because there are so many other reasons and laws that they shouldn't go public with their views. There tends to be a "sweet spot" with religion: one can go to church on Sundays, but don't dare get more involved than that. And absolutely do NOT talk about it with others.
So that's how I found myself on the proverbial map of Extremism. I have been seen as the tree-hugging "vegetarian," the on-the-wagon party-pooper, the anti-technology recluse, the floor-sleeping survivalist, the fitness-focused ultra-competitor, and the evangelizing preacherman. Each of these titles comes complete with a deeply held stigma. The above stereotypes are quite common in our society. And we blindly hold to many of them with much passion as we do ignorance.
Much of me enjoys debate and discussion. I eagerly engage others in challenging diatribes about the topics listed above. Part of me takes pride with going against the grain....sometimes because it's how I truly feel about something....and admittedly sometimes just to do it for attention (and hopeful debate!!). But I've learned to stick with my beliefs and passions no matter what the cost. That cost rears itself in different ways, but almost always with a side dish of exclusion or isolation from some sect of society. Often that sect is the majority.
Each of these aspects of life has a Bell Curve. A certain number of any population has a great percentage within the middle portion. Obviously fewer and fewer people find themselves with company as s/he gravitates toward the extremes. It's lonely at the extremes. There aren't as many folks who share the same level of commitment or take such a strong stance at those bookends. No matter how "right" or ideal the bookend might be, the bell curve theory holds true. Strength in numbers under the curve at the middle-of-the-road provides protection. Protection from ridicule, from being isolated, from being outcast. Join those in the safe middle and you are guaranteed acceptance. Society tells us to conform. Consider the cookie-cutter appearances and behaviors of high school students. They wear the same clothes, style their hair the same, and do the same things. The bell curve theory is very applicable to impressionable high school students who form their opinions and decisions based on acceptance by the masses.
There are many parts of our lives when we find ourselves in that middle ground. Sometimes the topic at hand is just not important to us to take a stand at one of those extreme bookends. Maybe it's out of ignorance. Maybe it doesn't affect us directly. Maybe it's one of those "battles not worth fighting." And I whole-heartedly agree that we as individuals can not and should not take an extreme stand on every aspect of life. It's the equivalent of spreading ourselves too thin.
Instead, I encourage everyone to find those SELECT segments in life where you are willing to fight that battle. Take those risks because the reward is so great. Or the lesson is worth it. Or because it's right. Sometimes taking a stand or jumping in with both feel is the right thing to do.
If you are one of those who consistently align yourself with that middle-of-the-road group, I question you: Do you not care about it? Are you not confident in your choice? Do you do it because you are ignorant or un-educated to the topics? Have you not found a group of friends or compatriots who are like-minded? Are you thriving for acceptance within that group in the middle? Are you fearful of being excluded? Do you doubt your worthiness? Do you not have the energy to explain yourself to others who disagree? Are you afraid of being unfairly lumped together with those at the FAR extreme...who might be "wrong?" Will you be coined as overly-opinionated or blind? Is the standard to live up to too high for you?
What I am NOT asking is to be different merely for the sake of being different. I am not saying we should all buck the system. Rather, analyze some aspects of life important to our character and our existence. Living a life consistently in the middle of the bell curve is boring and lukewarm.
Take a stand knowing that sometimes being an Extremist is the right thing to do.
Part 4 to discuss physical fitness. Finally.