I have something to confess….
I cannot stop watching Wife Swap! Although it may be pure shit, I just can’t stop myself. There is something so fascinating about peering into other peoples lives to see how differently they live. I suppose in reality that’s what made me love travel so much. Every time I got my visa stamped at a new border, it felt like I was reading a new chapter in an anthropological book.
People watching was my favourite. Watching what people ate, how they got around, how they socialized, even how they walked. It was fascinating.
BUT in these quarantined times the closest I get to travelling is a quick trip up the garden, so Wife Swap will have to do!
Now I know that Wife Swap just sounds like a 70’s party game, but it is actually a reality programme where 2 wives swap places for a week to see how the other family lives. And because it is TV they usually pick the most extreme opposites. Messy unruly houses swap with military families, hippies living in vans swap with extreme capitalists, and liberal families swap with pro-trumpers. Ouch!
If you are thinking well that sounds like a recipe for drama you would be right. These disparate couples have been picked precisely because they are ‘good TV’.
I suppose as a viewer you are supposed to side with the couple you are most similar to, and gawp at the other family whilst you mutter ‘how can anyone live like this?’. And maybe I am missing the point of the show entirely, but I can help but watch these things and think why can we have a middle ground? Why does everything have to be so extreme?
The Why of Balance
And I suppose this extremity of TV is no surprise. Nowasays, we are living in a golden age of entertainment and our attention is increasingly fractured. We have thousands of different channels to chose from on our TVs, or we can choose an app like Netflix, YouTube or Hulu. We can listen to music, or chat to our friends on our phones whilst we can surf the net. And 65% of us are choosing to do this all at the same time.
Is it any wonder that entertainment around us has to become so extreme in a last-ditch attempt to draw our attention. I mean just look at your TV. We have ‘My 600lb Life’, ‘Naked Attraction’, and too many crime fictions to count. And don’t even get me started on the internet! I don’t think we have ever been so polarised. Even your age is another reason for someone to hate you regardless of if you are a ‘boomer’, ‘millenial’ and or a ‘gen-z’.
Labels and boxes
We have lost our gray-area, our middle ground. We have become some quick to label things and put things in boxes that I don’t think we realise what this has done to us. Sometimes it is great to label things, to realise there are many other people like you, and that you are not alone. However, when we limit people to these labels, this is where we create issues. If we put ourselves in a box, and build up walls, we stop seeing the full picture. We are surrounded by so many like minded people that we begin to create an echo chamber. And this is dangerous.
We love our box. Our box represents us. But when we stop hearing the dialogues of the other boxes, it is easy to vilify them for being in a different box. When we live in a box we are so used to hearing our opinion echoed back to us that it seems alien that other people disagree.
And then we stop seeing people with different opinions as people, and we start seeing them as a label. We forget everything that makes this person unique. Quickly, we forget their quirks, their charm, their value. We only see them as a political party, or a different religion. We have squashed all the multi-dimensionality out of a person to satisfy our own small-mindedness.
And this black and white thinking has consequences. Arguably, this type of thinking is what has caused greater rifts in our society, growing distrust, and things like cancel culture.
But the thing is, very rarely is anything really black or white. Most things, no matter how light or dark, are just different shades of grey. We have become so wrapped up in the extremes of this world that we have forgotten balance.
And yes, of course, this black and white thinking is more attractive. It is much simpler to think that people are entirely evil or entirely good. This extreme thinking challenges our views less. We can make an opinion and stick to it. We have labelled it, and now we don’t need to think about it anymore. But the fact of the matter is , almost nothing is wholly good or wholly bad.
So what has balance got to do with Ultra-Marathons?
Take exercise for example. I cannot stop reading books about endurance marathon runners. I am not talking about a couple of hours of running, I am talking days of running in the sahara or across whole countries. It is wild, but this extreme lifestyle has got me hooked. And with our black and white thinking, it would be easy to think, ‘wow these people must be the healthiest people on the planet’.
In our incredibly sedentary lifestyles we are told the more exercise we do the better. But this is simply not the case. There seems to be a bit of a sweet spot in how much exercise is beneficial to our health. We all know that no exercise is not good for us. We are natural hunters, so sitting down all day watching Netflix is just not what we are adapted to do. And just in case you want your anxiety to spike the headline ‘sitting is the new smoking’ is becoming more and more popular.
so i suppose you think, oh fuck that, I want to get the Queen’s letter on my 100th birthday with the caterpillar cake. I better get running and never stop!
However, too much exercise is also very damaging, especially for endurance athletes like these ultra-marathonners above. Over-exercising can cause us to feel burnt out, cause muscle loss, trigger adrenal fatigue and at worst create severe heart damage that may result in early death. For example “in one German study published in European Heart Journal, researchers compared the hearts of 108 chronic marathoners and sedentary people in a control group. Surprisingly, the runners had more coronary plaque buildup, a risk factor for heart disease.”
Moderation for the nation
But what is missing here, like the other examples above is balance. Moderation is a good thing. Maybe the best thing is not to do the absolute most, but to find that sweet spot. To find the balance between the two.
I remember a good friend of mine explain the idea of balance within Judaism. She explained how nothing is an inherently good or bad thing. For example, the trait of kindness. We all think being kind is a good thing, and it’s clear that being unkind is a bad way to live your life. However, we can also be too kind. We can allow others to treat us badly for fear of offending them, we may be dishonest to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, we could give away so much of our money that charity that we end up unable to feed ourselves. The key is in the balance. Every trait is a good thing when it is balanced.
It’s easier to view everything in black and white. Black and white thinking allows us to to stick with what we are doing, and dig our heels into the ground. The answers are simple, and we are sticking with them. But though thinking like this might be easier, it isn’t necessarily what is best.
Finding balance is hard. It takes time, assessment, experimentation, and some uncomfortable moments. We tip from one side of the scale to the other until eventually we balance in the middle and it just feels right. Balance is not static, it is something we are constantly working on. Finding balance between our health, our goals, the reality of living and our limitations can be a real juggling act. But when you find what feels like balance to you, you’ll know. You know where that sweet spot is.
Everything is life is on a scale. You can absolutely loathe things, or love things more than you could ever know. However, the reality is nearly everything will fall somewhere in between these two points. It falls in the unknown, in this murky grey area. But though it may be murky, and sometimes difficult to navigate, if we look hard enough, we can find balance. It might not be on-the-edge of your seat Wife Swap exciting, but maybe the grey is okay.
Today’s song of the day about balance and extremes is Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake. It is all about a lady changing identity from a party girl to a business boss. Such a funky beat, and catchy lyrics.
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