What do you value?Oct 28, 2021
Or rather, from where do you derive virtue?
With origins in Socrates and his intellectual successors, the debate over what is virtuous and what is not is a discussion that has been had for thousands of years.
But wait- I hear you say. I only care about getting peaked biceps, capped delts and sick booty gains, why do I care about philosophy?
I think it’s important because all of our decision-making processes as athletes and coaches ultimately stem from what we value, what we consider virtuous, and what we consider a vice.
When we engage with a training goal, it says a whole range of things about what we value. After all, you’re willing to spend all this money and all this time pursuing a thing, it must be important to you.
Normally, I think deontology is an inelegant ethical solution (If you want to fight about this, please DM me on instagram). After all, considering duties as absolute and independent to outcome isn’t particularly intellectual (in my opinion).
However, when we reflect on virtue ethics, we can appreciate that the same action may be engaged with for a variety of different reasons. There are a whole variety of motivators for action. If you talk to a bunch of bodybuilders or powerlifters, you may find a different reason for every person on the platform/stage. But they all manage to get there. And of those people who get there, their personal experience to the end goal, and behaviour afterwards, are likely driven by the summation of their values.
As I progress in my career as a coach, I see more people with varied and diverse backgrounds. Often they get into something like bodybuilding, pursue that for a few years, transition towards something like powerlifting, do CrossFit, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you name it. I find it interesting, because often this kind of behaviour is driven by two highly polarised values.
It can be driven by people who thrive on external validation and enjoy affirmation both through seeing obvious improvement in their pursuit and through others telling them they’ve gotten better/doing a good job. It can also be driven by people having broader philosophical appreciation of “physical culture” and wanting to have a diverse range of experiences and enjoy them as part of a system that places high virtue of pursuing being good at a series of things as opposed to exceptional at a single thing.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting admiration from others. They’re both just approaches as reflected to what your values are.
However, there is a problem with the former approach. It can stem from a feeling of emptiness, or a sense that you’re not enough. If you let external feedback give you a sense of worth (whether it’s weight loss, gain, muscularity, strength), you also empower negative feedback to have a detrimental effect on your self-worth. If you’re revelling in the emerging shreds of this cutting phase because leanness is an absolute good, you’re likely going to have problems transitioning back towards a gaining phase, because it’s in many ways the antithesis of the ultimate good.
Alternatively, if you glorify your cutting phase because it’s a part of the training process, and a enactment of an intrinsic aspect of your identity as someone who’s passionate about improving your physique and the process, you’re likely going to have an easier time transitioning back towards gaining, as well as managing injury and setbacks.
So it’s not enough to simply say XYZ pursuit is good. It’s important that we reflect deeply on the values that drive us- what do we find virtuous, and how does that inform our engagement in our pursuits?
After all, you’re a primate with inconsistent hair coverage who spends a large portion of your life accruing made up points to exchange for goods and/or services. Those soul-searching and challenging questions are good ones- as is living an examined life.
Until next time,
Team Flex Success