Happy New Year: 2018
A remarkable 2017 has drawn to a close and with that we welcome the start of a brand new year. In this blog post I'd like to acknowledge the overall feel of 2017's major events in order to illustrate the relevance of climbing as a forward thinking culture with the power to bring many positive changes in the new year.
Never have I been more aware and interested in the general state of my immediate environment and world affairs. For me, the major events of 2017 initially appeared to be comprised only of division. Whether the subject be environmental, political, racial, economical, social, or about gender, there has never been a time where I've been so hyper-aware to the division going on around me. A lot of it is worrisome but some things, like racial division, are down right terrifying to me. Even though I see, hear, and read about all these developments, I often wonder why I feel largely untouched. That is where I think climbing comes in.
As climbing is essentially my entire life, it's not hard to see why it eventually becomes analogous to life in general; so much in fact that I begin to think that climbing provides the answers to why I feel exempt from our current state of affairs but empowered to take agency and give momentum to a positive change. My perspective turns from one of division to opportunity during a pivotal point in time where choices driven by the masses can happen in an instant and affect us all in any direction, depending on the intention.
My experience is that regardless of our individual points of view on strongly debated topics, most of that falls by the wayside when you enter the world of climbing because only the most important parts of being a good person matter in the climbing world. You need to trust who you climb with. You need to be patient and accepting of your climbing partners. You need to communicate. You need to be open minded to solutions to problems beyond your own.
I believe when most of us tie into a rope, we can set aside our different viewpoints long enough to understand that what really matters in the moment is our competencies to keep each other safe. We do not care what gender the other identifies as- boy, girl; they can identify as an alien, or a even burrito for all we care, as long as they treat our lives with respect once we leave the ground.
When we are blurring the line between highball bouldering and free-soloing, we do not care if the person spotting us is Christian, Jewish, or attends the church of the flying spaghetti monster. We do not care if they call their Ford Windstar a home or if they live in the West Hills. What matters in that moment is that they spot us until we’ve crossed the point of no return and then silently connect with us through concern and encouragement throughout the parts of climbing that require the greatest commitment.
While we may have little patience for other contradictory viewpoints in the outside world, it's interesting to think of the comparative, infinite patience we have for our climbing partners as they struggle to surpass physical and psychological challenges. We become active participants to help them succeed no matter how long it takes because we take a personal interest in their success, and it makes us feel good. In return we are encouraged to step further and further outside of our comfort zone, under the belief we have those we can count on; partners who will not judge but encourage us, whether we fail or succeed. There is no rancor.
As climbers, our curiosity and thirst for adventure takes us far beyond our neighborhoods. We explore area after area until we find ourselves buying plane tickets to destinations all around the world in order to feed our soul’s addiction for discovery. We open ourselves to new experiences, places, and communities. We broaden our perspectives and coincidentally, how we relate to the world. We then bring those experiences back with us and have the chance to administer our cross culture medicine; the antidote to racism.
Through climbing we find another way to learn the definition of what it is to put someone else first. We forgive, we listen, and we learn. Those that don't understand, aren't long for the climbing world and that's why I feel like we are comprised of such a unique and accepting community.
I think about all these qualities and start to wonder how I can connect more dots. How can I bring more of these traits into my personal life and into my interactions outside of climbing. What would it be like if climbing were the intermediary in some of today’s scariest issues? What would it be like if opposing world leaders needed to depend on each other as individuals for a summit? What if you spent a few nights on a big wall with someone whom you had a prejudice against and needed to rely on them for safety? I think you would be putting yourself at great risk; the risk of getting to know someone different than yourself on a personal level, realizing that what actually matters is the ability to connect and to be understood. You run the risk of admitting that you are fragile, complex and in need of trust. How welcoming would it be to have someone answer to all of that with the only expectation being that you simply return the favor. I think about all these things as we start a new year, and then I think about how, maybe, we've had the answers all along.
I repeat, we are in a pivotal moment in time where change can take any direction and we have the power to influence that direction using the most basic qualities for being a decent person. Every time we participate in climbing we exercise these very qualities. We as climbers have a keen awareness of the value of a human life. To some extent we risk ours everyday by choosing to be engaged instead of just being passengers in our lives. We trust people (sometimes perfect strangers) with our most valuable asset... our lives. We are repaid when they trust us with theirs regardless of the infinite ways in which we are different because at the core, we’re all pretty much the same, alone and in need of connection and understanding. All we have to do is try to make a conscious effort to treat these changes with the same approach we use when we are climbing and we can turn some of this division into unity.
Happy New Year!