Last weekend, I participated in The Triadventure: The Finale, which is the primary fundraising event for the Nikibasika project in Uganda (the blog’s very own Cate Creede is the director of this profoundly meaningful endeavour). The idea of this event is similar to the Friends for Life Bike Rally that lots of us have done. . .promise to do something physically hard and impossible to contemplate for some people and then ask them to donate. It has the effect of creating a dual path to convincing people to part with their money. One is the project itself (which has literally raised, as in parented, nurtured and guided, 52 kids from very adverse circumstances into community leaders and beautiful humans), the other is people being impressed with how hard the participants are willing to work in order to draw attention to the project. To that end, the full event is a 3k swim, a 14k run, a 13k canoe and a 122k bike ride.
One of the other impacts of events like this is the community they build around a mutual goal. I came to the Triadventure late. This is the last one as the project is now fully funded to its conclusion, which will be graduation from post secondary education the last 13 kids (the youngest is 15 right now). I feel both sad that I didn’t get in on it sooner and also that the experience of being there this last time was enough to make me profoundly grateful that I got to participate even once. I feel very strongly that community building is actually the single most important impact of this event and others like it.
The money is important for sure but the lasting impact on people’s hearts moves forward through time with ripples that generate profoundly important structural cohesion in this very non cohesive world. It’s an antidote to despair. It’s hope for people across the Atlantic but also for the people immediately around us. Smith, a graduate of the project whose profession is somewhere between doctor and nurse practitioner, and who was able to come to Canada for a couple of weeks to see our medical system and participate in the event, wisely noticed the love. He talked about the love that his brothers and sisters felt in the care they received and the idea that people cared for them and worked for them. He also noticed the love of the group for each other. He was struck with love and he said it so beautifully and vulnerably over and over.
While riding the first leg of the bike ride on Sunday, I was chatting with one of the participants about the world and doom and all of that. She asked me if I thought political climate impacted the psychological health of society and how quickly I thought it was passed through to impact. She was actually asking this question in contemplation of another project she is working on that is a support umbrella for social innovation. So, this wasn’t just another bunch of left wing pinko cyclists complaining about the government and the hetero-capitalist-colonialist-patriarchy (although that was there, no doubt).
My answer, in case you wonder, is “YES” and “nearly immediately in my experience”. Leadership sends messages and the messages about disregarding the vulnerable land most acutely in the laps of the vulnerable. By definition, they are VULNERABLE and so do not have means that others have to weather the whims of cost cutters and people who think boot strapping is physically possible (as in physics people, you can’t lift your own self off the ground. Either there is a ladder, a crane, stairs or a person carries you). They are attuned to being left behind and react immediately. They are attuned to the messages that are implicitly sent (it’s their fault, they aren’t trying hard enough, their problems aren’t real, they aren’t real) and this results in further despair, trauma, immobilization and giving up. If no one cares about you, why should you care about yourself? Why would you know you could care about yourself?
Then I started to make the analogy to cycling. Sweeping to be precise. The role of a sweep on a long ride, especially a community/charity ride, is to stay at the back and make sure everyone gets home safely. This means they are likely going at a pace that is not very fast and sometimes not even very fun. It’s work to sweep. You have to keep an eye out for the most vulnerable and help them. Further, you have an obligation to look around and make sure you didn’t miss anyone because sometimes there are people you can’t see (sorry Alan, I’m glad you caught up but I felt bad).
Sweeping requires compassion for people who make dumb choices (about gear or bikes or not enough water or not enough training). Sometimes sweeping requires extra help, like a car and a lift. Those resources are given to those who need them so they can all meet us at the end of the ride and be part of our community together. If we acted like some leaders, people who make mistakes, have gear issues, get sick the day of the ride or get lost, would all be left on the side of the road, in some cases to die. We would say, “that’s their problem, heat stroke should be mind over matter”. But that is disgusting of course and we wouldn’t. We don’t.
I want the whole world to run like the Triadventure, or the Bike Rally, or even the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I want safety and community and sacrifice and love to be the primary motivators and goals of what we aspire to create and be. I want hope, damn it. I know how to sweep, the principles are easy. I want every politician to behave like a sweep. I want the focus to be on service and selflessness, the kind that lifts everyone up and feeds everyone, including those who serve.
Fundamentally, I think this is the kind of wisdom to be found in sport and specifically non-competitive sport. We were all just helping each other do a hard thing with love. I mean, that’s just the secret of life right there isn’t it? Do the hard thing, with love.
So do it.