By Mark Braithwaite & Megan Nolde
2020 has been one hell of a year. We’ve made it through a pandemic that’s still going, a presidential election year, a summer of social upheaval, and economic downturn. As we near Thanksgiving (a time to give thanks and spend with family and friends), you may wonder — what exactly do I have to be thankful for this year? Even outside of the holiday season, many of us find that we often get tangled up in the day to day and let things get to us, forgetting how good we actually have it in this world.
We also frequently lose sight of the blessings of our relationships. I’m not only talking about the connection with family and friends, but with your community and beyond. Sharing, working together, and helping others is ingrained in our DNA– as humans, we’re social creatures. That little warm feeling you get when volunteering, helping a neighbor with a task, or even holding the door for someone? That’s evolutionarily important.
We have evolved and progressed this far by helping each other and building community. It feels way better to believe people are inherently good (and you’ll get much further in your days and weeks that way), and the best way to bring about the good in others is to show the good in you. Megan’s grandmother used to tell her, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In other words — the golden rule is real, and we must first act kindly if we wish to find kindness around us.
Life may not always be peachy, but in the grand scheme of things most of us have it pretty good. If you are reading this, you have something that over 750 million people don’t have –literacy. You are probably reading it on a laptop or phone, in which case you have the means to purchase the device and live in a place that has internet access. This article is posted on a gym blog, which means you are most likely a member of the gym (or a gym) and are physically able to participate in fitness. After you get a good workout, you get to jump in your car or walk back to your house or apartment, take a warm shower, and have a nutritious meal. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point.
There are so many things in this world that conspire against our even being here in this moment and in this place — our very individual existence is highly unlikely, statistically. One change in choices generations before us, and we might not exist. “There but for the grace of God go I” is another way to put it, if you’re a person of faith. Putting things in perspective in a way like this is just one way to remind yourself of how lucky you are — how much we have that we don’t think about most of the time — and consequently, how much we can share or offer to others.
Mark is fond of building and maintaining physical strength, and so we both want to switch gears and talk about strength as a value. We find it interesting that the words “strong” and “strength” are not as often used in more value statements for organizations and businesses. We usually relate these words to our performance in the gym or to providing a list of things we are good at in a job interview. Some definitions of strength are: “capacity for exertion or endurance,” “power to resist force”, and “one regarded as embodying or affording force or firmness.” But what exactly does strength look like outside of a workout or task?
Strength comes in many forms. Some of us have a higher capacity for dealing with stress or hardship and can endure more than others. Some of us are better at resisting temptations, shortcuts, or revenge if done wrong. Some find strength in vulnerability, holding a high capacity for openness and honesty and soothing the pain of others. What we all have is, though, is the ability to afford others a firmness in our character that inspires us to do what is right. This might come in the form of lifting up others to overcome hardship or accomplish goals; it might come in the form of standing up for others who aren’t being heard or valued; it might come in the form of showing love for others outside of any ideology or social pressures. No matter how we choose to employ our strengths, we can use them to improve the well-being of all.
Mark calls himself a bit of a “meathead,” so we both found it useful to relate emotional and physical strength. The two are actually very similar. Some people are gifted with strength and some have built it through experience. It could be lifting weights or enduring heavy hardships. Both hold the potential to grow and change us for the better, if we approach them with open minds and patience. There may be setbacks that cause you to need to build your strength back up — and in these moments, the strength of others in your community can help lift you up.
Tennis legend and local Richmonder Arthur Ashe is quoted as saying, “With what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” So take some time this season to think about how you can be strong for someone. How can you help someone who is struggling with something that you may have overcome yourself, or working towards a goal and needs a little nudge? How can you be firm and not sway when called on to carry the load for your family, a friend, or your community?
As we go into the holidays, reflect on what you can be grateful for and find ways to be strong. And remember — your community is a reflection of you. If you see gratitude, kindness, strength, and care, it’s highly likely that you’re also promoting those values yourself. If you don’t see as many of those values as you’d like, take some time to think about how you can be a catalyst for them in your world. It might be taking time before you clean up your gym equipment to cheer for a classmate; collecting donations that have been requested by a local shelter; listening when a loved one has had a difficult time; or any myriad action you might do. No matter your choice– we hope you choose values that build community and generate goodwill, making our world stronger in the process.
Mark Braithwaite has competed in Bodybuilding, Triathlon, CrossFit, Weightlifting, and Strongman. He is dedicated to maintaining health and overall wellness while navigating the day to day grind and enjoys helping others along their journey.
Megan Nolde has been a member of Shockoe Bottom Performance since May 2019. She’s a fine artist who also works in nonprofit and government consulting. She has a passion for community and making the world a better place for all of us.