We’re Intrigued, but We Won’t Bite
The reason so many people bristle at the idea of running without shoes on has little to do with the ickiness factor and everything to do with a story about an apple, a serpent, and a naked man and woman in a perfect world. Let me explain.
The press has been going crazy lately after new studies were published showing the merits of running barefoot. It seems every newspaper, website, blog, magazine, and news program has run a story about barefoot running over the past few months, from TIME Magazine to the New York Times to the Boise Weekly. The coverage has exposed thousands, if not millions, to the idea of shedding their shoes and going for a run. Many readers have been convinced to give barefoot running a try, though they are in the minority. Many people, it seems, would rather eat a slug than hit the road without their trusty shoes.
There are a number of reasons people give for why they won’t give barefoot running a try. They say they’re scared they’ll step on something sharp, like broken glass or a nail. They say the ground is dirty and crawling with bacteria and viruses that could make them sick. And they say that they’re body is not biomechanically perfect.
While all of these reasons people give stem from real fears they have, they’re unaware of a much stronger and deeper reason for why they cringe at the thought of running without the support of shoes. It’s so deep, in fact, that most of us don’t realize its impact on our decisions, and will likely question it’s real affect on us.
Cultural Worldviews & Frames
To understand the deeper reason we won’t run barefoot we need to first understand a few concepts. Psychologists and anthropologists – the folks who spend their lives figuring out why we do the things we do – tell us that there are underlying cultural stories that we use to explain our world. These stories help define and propagate rules about the way the world works and how we should behave in it. These stories, such as the story of Cinderella (which, interestingly, exists in pretty much every culture in the world), are examples of a larger narrative. In the case of the Cinderella story, the narrative is: oppressed woman is saved by man.
Narratives go a long way in helping a culture continue certain beliefs, values, and systems. Put simply, the way we see the world and behave in it is influenced a great deal by the stories we tell and buy into.
The Original Sin Narrative
I was listening to a podcast in which Ted McDonald (aka Barefoot Ted) was being interviewed. He was talking about the arguments folks have against barefoot running and the mentality that the human body is broken. It struck me how similar this belief sounds to the Christian philosophy of the Original Sin, that we’re all born deficient because man has sinned against God.
At the center of the Original Sin narrative lies Adam and Eve. In this story, God created Adam and Eve in his likeness and gave them the perfect world to inhabit and look after. It was all theirs on one condition: they mustn’t eat from the tree of knowledge. They are tempted by the devil disguised as a snake and eat fruit from the tree. Having broken their promise God they are banished out of the perfect Garden of Eden to live in the imperfect world we know today. While death did not exist in the Garden of Eden, it is rampant in their new world. The human body was suddenly susceptible to illness and death. We were created perfect, but disease and death entered the system with the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
The effects of this story are quite profound. The narrative leads us to believe that the human body is damaged goods. The result of this belief leaves us dependent on technology, medicine, or divine intervention.
Western medicine and science have grown and flourished within this narrative. The Original Sin narrative is perhaps the best thing that ever happened to the medical industry. It’s why Western medicine generally treats the symptoms rather than look at the situation holistically with the goal to find and stop the reason we’re sick in the first place.
The Shoe Fits the ‘Original Sin’ Narrative
So what does all of this have to do with whether we wear shoes or not?
If our bodies are imperfect, thanks to the sin Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, we must need shoes. Our bodies just can’t handle the stress, impact, friction, and force of running. The Original Sin narrative underlies the reason most people won’t run without shoes. If they did run without shoes, they’d be going against one of the strongest, most foundational, and guiding narratives the Western world knows.
As the saying goes, if the shoe fits…
There is, of course, an alternate possibility. That we as a society are questioning the so-called absolutes of the Original Sin narrative and Western medicine frameworks. In this scenario, the rise in interest of barefoot running is the logical next step in our exploration into the power of the human spirit and body. Time will tell whether we’ve turned a corner or are still held by the grips of the worldviews of our forefathers and foremothers.