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Working Together Not Against One Another

The donkey’s path may provide a blueprint for survival
Peter van der Sluijs, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The donkey’s path may provide a blueprint for survival

I’m Bob Seay. This is the third of three HPPR book byte commentaries I’ve made about “Running with Sherman,” by Christopher McDougall.

Sherman is more than a story of the little donkey that could. McDougall immerses his readers in the world of competitive burro racing, a sport I never even knew existed before I read this. Like all sports, burro racing requires intense training and preparation that in some ways is more taxing than the training done by professional athletes. After all, you are going through all of this at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level and with an animal not known for its spirit of cooperation. This contrast with more traditional sports was quite compelling.

As McDougall notes on page 298, “Burro racing was inspired by prospectors and jackasses, the true American misfits, and it flips everything about modern sports on its head.” That “everything” about American sports includes power, strength, and domination on the field. In burro racing, according to McDougall, “You’ve got one hope of getting to the finish line, and that’s to forget about dominance and ego and discover the power of sharing and caring, compassion, and cooperation.”

In other words, the blueprint for the planet’s survival may be found not on the football field but on the path of a donkey. This is how our ancestors survived, by sharing with one another, caring for one another, and cooperating. Our disconnect from the natural world is, in part, the result of our need to control resources rather than share them. Our need to compete rather than to care for one another has created the perception that we are all either winners or losers, with no real option for those who want to help others win. Failure or even the refusal to cooperate seems to be a major theme of modern life.

This is not to say that donkey racers are pushovers. They want to win. But they want to do so – they are required to do so – in ways that work with their donkey partners rather than against them. Competitors look out for one another on the course and help those who need assistance. Like cross country runners, burro racers work within the natural environment and not on a manmade field of play. The rules, such as they are, are rooted in the natural tendencies of the donkeys, not in the proclivities of those who compete.

Like all sports stories, our heroes must overcome adversity along the way. But the adversary here is as psychological as it is physical. Yes, the terrain is rough. The air is thin. But these racers must also overcome their competitive programming, not just as athletes but as regular people who are the product of a culture that stresses the importance of force and domination.

McDougall has an epiphany about the Tao of Donkeys towards the end of the book. I talked about the Tao of Donkeys, aka, the Tao of Steve, in the second of my commentaries about Running with Sherman. Part of that is to be desire-less. Freedom from desire does not mean the absence of hope. It simply means that you are okay with whatever happens in a given situation. But, as McDougall points out on page 275, “When two of you want the same thing, your own desire doesn’t matter anymore. You’re desire-less!” (Italics appear in the original.)

Being desire-less about our relationship with the natural world does not mean that we have no hope for our future. It means that we want the same thing that nature wants, which is basically for the planet and everyone on it to survive.

We should be desire-less. We should strive to be excellent in our relationship with the natural world. Because if we fail to do those things, we will be gone.

For High Plains Public Radio, this is Bob Seay.

Fall Read 2023: Wisdom of the Natural World 2023 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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