Running for Ring Dings

by Joanie Butman

As a follow-up to my recent essay on exercise, I want to share a funny story regarding my running – and I use the term loosely these days. I have never been a serious runner. I never ran because I LIKED it. In fact, I hated every step. I ran to burn calories, period. It was a means to an end. I never pushed myself to extremes, never ran anything other than the corporate challenge races in Central Park, and that was only to round out a team and/or for the post-race party.

Until this year, I ran the beach on which we live in the summer in an effort to counteract my traditional lobster and ice cream summer diet, which I highly recommend if you are trying to gain weight. My in-laws live just a few doors away. Their living room faces the water, and they don’t miss much because they are always in their chairs by the window or on the infamous porch. I would always pass and wave at the start of my run when I was fresh and going at a good clip. Then on the tail end, I would finish up with a sprint towards home sailing by them once again unruffled by my 90 minute “run.” They didn’t see anything in between – the stops to collect rocks or talk with many of the neighbors, the long stretches of walking, the pit-stop at a lemonade stand to discuss business strategies with budding entrepreneurs.

Unintentionally, they got the impression that I was a “real” runner. I tried to explain my Running for Ring Dings philosophy, but there was no convincing them. They’ve spent the past 20+ years fretting over whether I have enough to eat whenever I am invited for a meal or just sitting on the porch. They always offer me the last piece of blueberry pie, which justifies continuing the charade in my mind. The point of the story is that their perception is their reality. In their minds, I could carry the Olympic torch. I have to confess, once I realized what was happening, don’t think I was above turning it up a notch every time I passed working my crowd of two. After all, I’m only human.

This is obviously an innocent and harmless distortion of reality, but there are times when your actual behavior is less important than people’s perception of it. Think of the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If there is any truth in that, I think I’m half way there. Either I am the most misunderstood person in creation or it is my perception that needs adjusting. The thing is everyone views you through their own binoculars. And that perception is always colored by their own emotional baggage. Perceived slights are often more about what is going on in their lives than yours.

My actions and/or words have been “misunderstood” in a myriad of places but none more often than within my own family. What I’ve learned is that I am still held accountable despite my well-meaning intentions. Then I am faced with a choice:

       a.  Do I apologize for something I didn’t do and make amends, or

       b.  Do I stand my ground and stubbornly maintain my innocence?

Interesting dilemma. I’ve tried both strategies, and can testify to two things:

  1. It is easier to move a mountain than to change someone else’s perception of you.
  2. If the common denominator in your problems is you, maybe your perception is the one that is distorted.

I don’t know many areas I can claim expertise, but if experience has taught me anything, it is that option A is the wiser choice. I’ve seen friendships broken, marriages shattered, partnerships dissolved all because of a stubborn defiance to accept responsibility for our actions regardless of how misunderstood our intentions may be. A refusal to acknowledge that if our actions are being perceived in a negative light, it is our responsibility to work on how we can adjust our behavior to improve that perception.

In regard to my pretense with my in-laws, they’re 96 and aren’t likely to change their perception, but I’ve decided that I like their reality. When I run by them, which is the only portion of my course I run these days, for that brief moment, I do feel like a “real” runner. And what’s the harm in that?