Thursday, 29 January 2015

Choices are a matter of Opinion

I have seen many situation of late where people have become quite annoyed when opinions of one person do not replicate their own. This has occurred both at work, socially and perhaps more substantially within social media.

For my mind the importance centres around the freedom of choice. You may think I'm an idiot (you'd probably be right) and that is your choice. How I respond is also my choice. Now of course we live in a world governed by rules and regulations that whilst not restricting all choices do provide ramifications for every action. I resent equally being told something is definitively good for me as much as I do being told something is definitively bad for me. We have all seen the messages shared about Coke and what happens to a coin in coke and therefore it's really really bad and will cause you to DIE!!! The scaremongering and in some ways proclamations of purity made by denouncing all things "bad" I find highly irritating. I'm a good person AND I like haribo, I even dare to indulge in it when out for a run. On the basis of some people's choice my legs are going to fall off and by age 35 I will be lucky if I can remember my own name.

I raise these points slightly flippantly to allude to the importance of individuality and preferences based on being an individual.

I try to remember the importance of choice not just when offering advice in the guise of an opinion (be these personally or professionally), but also when observing other people's choices and suggestions for what i should do. I strive to make myself better, but this has to be in the context of me and not someone else.

Thousands of people run Ultra distance races each year. It stands to reason what works for one will not work for all. Let's all remember that both when seeking and giving advice. A handful of informed choices will, for me, always be better than a plethora of unclarified opinions reported as fact. Let's support each other with information in a manner that lets us all enjoy our running and tailor our efforts to our individual needs.

The above applies to businesses across life and particularly in sport and media. Some of my favourite businesses are those that really strive to customise the advice they provide and that's because they recognise I'm an individual. Watch tonight (if you have not before) the adverts on tv (cosmetic adverts are the best at it) and see how many in some way infer "this will make you amazing and sexy and generally awesome" only to have in the small print at the bottom of the advert 12 out of 79 people agree. Yes studies of 79 individuals are being used to determine pseudo facts for the nation.

With a niche market like Ultra running everyone is learning all the time, who can really say how your body will react to running 100 miles, let alone whether the cause is your shoe choice or the burrito you had at mile 5. We need to live and learn through experience and sensible advice that then is validated through personal trial and error not assume it worked for 3 people so is going to work for us.

The main causes for such "factual" discussions in running at the moment seems to be Hoka's, Garmin vs Suunto, Synthetic foods vs Natural and whether to do long back to back runs in training or not. I fail to see how I can tell you what works for you. I can provide an informed view through my experiences. I often seek others informed views and ultimately believe this is what most people seek when asking the questions. What I find unhelpful (in all areas of life) is when people, companies etc... say "I prefer Garmin", "I like Hoka", "I don't like Hoka". It's very easy to see how such comments serve quickly  to muddy an already highly opinionated water. If it was a school essay or a mathematical equation I liken it to being given the answer without the working out. I'm sure most of us remember being told by a maths teacher that you get marked for your working out. I think when giving an opinion it's essential to give the reasoning otherwise how does one know we are even considering the same or similar equations. For example I love the comfort of Hoka's but have over time found that they are not providing enough support to my ankle. I could just say "I don't like Hoka as they don't provide supoort". That's it a storm of views now would flood in to support or contradict. What I could do is add flesh to that discussion and explain I tore my ATFL in 2008 and since have a weakness in my left ankle that I've not rehabbed properly and thus find my leg over compensates etc etc. Suddenly a very different opinion forms. I believe this opinion provides better insight when others are making their choices. This example might reassure some that the shoe could be good for them, or for some might provide a reason to approach the use of the shoe with caution.

In large part the product or service is not relevant. What I believe is important is to remember that we all are different with different choices that work for us and that is ok. Sometimes in this world we see people talking about being "offended" and that's ok, but Stephen Fry makes a brilliant response to the issue of offence,

"It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what."

       Whilst I think we should not intentionally set out to offend it is inevitable, particularly through social media that someone will take offence. The action of purposefully offending I think can fairly be seen at times as trolling. How we all respond to such expressions of opinion is our choice. I think there is a great power in not being baited, after all we all have a choice as to how much of our energy is consumed by responding to things that are irritating to us. If all things were approached with a little respect and good humour then all our frustrations would be minimal.

        As an individual opinions are important, but confusing them with fact must be avoided. To get the best from your running personalise your choices based on experience and constructive opinion. The rest is just irrelevant to you, but don't assume it's irrelevant to others, it just might be the information they need, provided in the formats they need to better their own running.

        Ultimately we might like an opinion, we may disagree and we may even be offended. When it comes down to it we are accountable to ourselves and we may sometimes get offended. We can manage these differences better in society and in a growing Ultra community if before we speak we ask the question mentioned by Stephen Fry "so fucking what."