Point of View: What We Could Do

That, I thought, is the way to be, or the way to want to be

When a woman with whom we were talking one night at Cittanuova said she had never felt she was any better or any less than anyone else, I said, “That’s it.”

That, I thought, is the way to be, or the way to want to be, certainly in an ideal democratic society — open to others, unshackled by fear or envy or pride, willing to engage on equal terms with anyone, to listen to and reflect upon what everyone has to say. 

We seem far removed from that sensibility now, the even-tempered give-and-take that can lead to progress, stuck in a rut of contumely, rashness, and self-aggrandizement, to the exclusion of all. Fear rules, sowing hatred and discord as through heedlessness an egalitarian society and nature suffer.

There are, of course, exceptions, and one I’m thinking of is close to home: I-Tri’s work with teenage girls, who, once they’ve trained for and participated in a triathlon, a daunting task, even for the athletic, and have come to know and appreciate themselves and their teammates better through interactive esteem-building sessions, realize — their fears having been overcome — that they can do anything.

Overcoming fear, I-Tri’s founder, Theresa Roden, has said, “sets us apart.” Indeed, it was for this, she thinks, that the International Triathlon Union’s women’s committee recently singled I-Tri out for an award. And, come to think of it, there are no tryouts for I-Tri: Anyone, everyone is welcome. 

We celebrate individuality in this country, and also, if our ideals are to be heeded, community. Individuality and community. Ideally, we’re a team, like I-Tri, each working to maximize her or his gifts, and all working as best we can to make of many one. Lofty goals, yes. But achievable if, at the end of the day, we are all in this together.

Ms. Roden wants to take this farther than the East End — into the country, into the world. And, as David Wilmott used to say at the end of his editorials, why not? It is a lesson well worth the learning.

Isabel, with whom I work — a terrific long-distance runner, by the way — said on reading the story I’d written on I-Tri last week, that that was it, just as I’d said when the woman in Cittanuova spoke. I never felt any better or any less than anyone else. And, might it be true, that the better you feel about yourself, the more inclined you may be to celebrate others, your teammates, even to the extent, as is the case with I-Tri, of running back a half-mile after you’ve broken the tape to run with the last one to finish, hand-in-hand, across the line. If I-Tri were adopted throughout this country, think what we could do.