Values, Diversity, and Walruses
I’m kind of obsessed with the latest edition of National Geographic magazine dedicated to exploring what goes on inside animal minds. Did you know that rats have empathy? They’ve been known to cuddle or soothe other rats that are stressed. Studies have shown they wanna make their friend feel good so they feel good. Walruses and plunder fish show altruistic kindness by stepping in to raise orphaned young even though it means their own genes potentially aren’t passed down. (Having no obvious reward.) Dolphins may have a more complicated language than our own, speak in dialects, share food rations, and know one another by name. Goldfish remember other goldfish they’ve met. Ants rescue other ants needing help. While elephants have a deep sense of self-awareness and recognize their own image in mirrors. Often those traits and facets are overlooked by us, humans, because they present differently than our own and are outside our interest to investigate. How could clicks and whistles ever be as informative (and therefore valuable) as vowels and syllables?
Value is an interesting thing. What we find valuable determines … a lot. Namely it determines (or at least guides) choices. What do we choose to pay attention to? What do we prefer over something else? What do we label as better than or worse than … right vs. wrong? Sometimes those choices are conscious. Often they’re unconscious. But is something truly “wrong” or “less than” simply because it’s not what we are currently finding value in? Is a dolphin’s capacity for communication or an elephant’s sense of self less than mine just because I’m personally not as interested in it as I am communicating with other people? Is it universally less valuable?
Diversity: The state of being diverse; variety. A range of different things.
I’m having a moment with the word diversity. I’m stuck on it.
We’re accustomed to talking about genetic diversity. We appreciate different hair color, skin tone, height, and green vs. brown eyes as different but still just what they are. You might envy your friends curly hair, but it’s not better than yours or less than someone else’s. It’s just different. If you’d prefer it to yours it’s not because yours is faulty or harmful … it’s simply a preference … a choice you find value in.
Have you heard of Neuro-Diversity? Maybe not because it’s a relatively new talking point. It’s an approach to learning and mental health that argues various neurologic conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome. (Huh?!) Neuro-Diversity basically says that several neuro conditions (Autism / Down Syndrome / OCD / etc) are perfectly normal variations on a theme. They are not less than something or more than something. They fall on the spectrum of neurologic diversity (a range of different things). Dually in the book Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity, editors Bauman and Murray state, “Deafness is not an evolutionary error but a natural part of human existence as evidenced by the fact that the 400 or so known deaf genes haven’t been ushered out by the evolutionary process.”
People with deafness … autism … down’s … are not doing the best they can … they are doing exactly good / well / how they are suppose to be doing in consideration of available resources like a secure supportive habitat and community (in the way available resources affect us all, diversity aside). There is no need for championing or pity … it just is what it is … and any “problem” we observe in their behavior or movement management is not strictly a result of their condition but from our inability to fully grasp their relationship with surviving, thriving, and aliveness - most likely due to typical people not finding value in exploring non-typical relationships. (In the same way dolphin language is richer than my own I wouldn’t be shocked to learn I’d never noticed such richnesses in a man’s life thriving with cerebral palsy.) Truth be told we can’t understand everything, but we can appreciate the diversity in things we haven’t bothered to explore or chosen to pay attention to.
I was walking one day and I noticed my gait. I noticed I was heel striking on one foot and mid-foot striking on the other. Immediately I thought: Which is right?! What if neither was? What if both were? (Because I’m that #JustMove guy) Then I thought: Who got to decide what was “right?” Like when in history did someone give someone else the authority to decide that a specific movement was right and all other variations wrong? (Or at least not as valuable.) And what rubric was that judged against? How did that choice fit into the spectrum of genetic possibility or expression? Creativity? Tensegrity? Survival?
Then I thought movement: Is Teaser something to “get right?” Did I bench press wrong if I didn’t DO it a certain way? If I pulled-up all the way pain free, but my legs were bent askew - right or wrong? No value in my 5K run if the stride was off? Even if it and I felt amazing afterward? And bested my time? Who got to decide all those preferences? Whose value system am I operating under? How is it affecting my choices?
’Cause I can decide. Like literally I can just decide to find value in something. Or not. Like a Teaser done off-center or half-way. Or a pull-up with two different grips. Or rolling around on the ground ’til I’m satiated. Running for speed vs. running as embodiment. Or being pleased with how I backbend differently than you! Those things aren’t harmful they’re just different than typical, a preference, and worth consideration and exploration simply because they EXIST. Until recently we did not notice, or find value in, dolphin whistles as words, bat friendships, gorilla dreams, and humpback whale culture does not mean that those things were non-existent, unintentional, and lacking expression of self (Aliveness!) … that they weren’t worthy of being interesting or valuable. They were just on the spectrum somewhere other than where we had attributed significant value.
We get that the way we look is different from person to person, and we not only accept it, but anticipate it … and often celebrate it! We’ve begun to do that accepting and celebrating thing with choices: Family Diversity. To a far lesser degree (but one nonetheless) even understanding the same with identities and orientations: Sexual Diversity. We even talk about diversifying our financial portfolios and diets. How about appreciating diversity in movement? Let’s coin the idea kinesiologic diversity. The idea my Swan / bicep curl / sprint can be an investigation and expression of what I’m currently finding interesting enough to explore … a reflection of how my body has practiced moving and living thus far … away from the judgement of being less than or almost good enough, still working at or not as valuable as someone else because of difference … toward the distinction that movement itself is a neutral range and that only changes with the values we ascribe to it. In the name of appreciation and normal variation let your forward flexion be YOUR forward flexion!
Before we critique ourselves or another examine what is informative more than wrong, and from whose value system you’re operating from, and how that’s guiding the choices you’re making every day in how you enter into relationship with yourself. Consider a lesson from our animal friends and choose kindness toward yourself and others - there’s value in your kinesiologic diversity. I have a feeling that if you were absolutely never meant to move like THAT evolution woulda’ stepped in a long time ago and edited it out of genetic possibility. Finesse and grace are values not mandates. The trick may be to start finding value and interest in larger portions, shades, dialects, and orientations of movement (get curious - move more - move differently) rather than trusting you already know where ALL the value lies. In racial diversity we have a word for that. You don’t wanna be a movist, do you?
by James Crader