The “Saturday Stolen Post” joins us from the CrossFit Journal. Maybe readers didn’t know what to say about it, or maybe I missed the applauds when it was published, but it seemed to be lacking the attention it deserved. And for such a beautiful article, thats a shame.
It’s expressive, and humorous, and philosophical. Most of all it’s original. It’s not recycled crap that some wannabe writer sat down and threw-up to get Facebook likes. It reads like someone writing for pure enjoyment. Even if you don’t get it, that alone makes for valuable reading. It’s like the author cared about the story, not the critic. I love that.
The following is from The CrossFit Journal.
CrossFit as Eudaimonia
“Men will be good or bad builders as a result of building well or badly.” —Aristotle
Right around Day 12 of a 30-day nutrition challenge, I start to feel good.
The first week and a half feels like my body is on strike— “Where the hell is my sugar?”—and there are some mornings I have difficulty imagining ever feeling good again. But then, one day, that feeling of weary despair just sort of floats off; my eyes are bright, my legs have bounce, my mind is clear, and I feel on my way to a better self.
Day 12 is when I start to believe Aristotle again.
I start to believe again that the road to a good life—an excellent, happy life—requires difficult, uncomfortable steps for both mind and body. I start to believe again that the road is long but gets easier, that on the road we are helped along by our friendships, by courage and by self-love, each of which are, in turn, nourished as we take each step.
I start to believe again in a fundamental truth: each success gets imprinted on my character, and I become a little bit more “one-who-succeeds.”
These are some of the key principles of Aristotle’s ethics. His overall point is that when we “train”—physically, morally, intellectually—(and, indeed, when we don’t), we are molding not just our bodies or behaviors, but also our very characters,andindoingso,wearecultivatingacore set of virtues that either enable or hinder our ability to flourish as human beings.
I have come to see that CrossFit—all of it: its nutritional focus, mental rigor, physical pursuit, community spirit and more—manifests Aristotle’s principles. CrossFit is not just a workout with a physical goal. It is also, and maybe even primarily, about cultivating a set of character traits that can enable a person to flourish in all aspects of life.
Eudaimonia means “excellence,” “flourishing” and “functioning well.”
In moral philosophy, there are essentially two kinds of questions. The first is “What ought I to do?” This question occupied most philosophers’ attentions through Medieval and Enlightenment philosophy. For instance, St. Augustine and Immanuel Kant focused on coming up with moral rules to follow, and they emphasized the moral duty to obey those rules. The source of the rules differed, of course—God or Universal Reason—but nevertheless, to be “good” meant to adhere to a set of moral rules.
Aristotle, on the other hand, didn’t care about that question too much. He asked a different one all together: “What kind of person ought I be?”
His was a question of character. He insisted that “rules” could not be given for how one ought to be because the moral question was always about whether or not people were flourishing, and flourishing looks different—in its particulars—on different people. Thus, there can be no moral cookie cutter dictating right action.
Flourishing means the capacity of a being to be its best self, to thrive, to vibrantly inhabit the world. This definition underlies Aristotle’s central concept of eudaimonia, an ancient Greek word. What eudaimonia really means is “functioning well.” Excellence means “to function well.” Happiness means “to function well.” And “to be good”— and that’s not just descriptively good, but also morally good—means to be“functioning well.”
In carpentry, it is having a good eye for proportion and hand-eye coordination. In violin playing, it means sense of timing, tone and musicality, and so forth. And we might imagine then that in CrossFit, eudaimonia is achieved by “functioning well across broad time and modal domains.” Take a second to enjoy how Aristotelian the very definition of CrossFit is.
But in addition to the eudaimonia of particular social locations and activities, Aristotle was primarily interested in the eudaimonia of being human.
What did it mean to “function well” as a human being? In answering that question, Aristotle found that there were some character traits, or virtues, essential to human flourishing, such as courage, perseverance, friendship, self-love and others.