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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why is the ground scary?

Many barefooters theorize that the fear of hard surfaces, and the need to protect our feet, knees, hips, etc from them, result from advertising campaigns that sell protection-themed merchandise. I'm not so sure. I'm skeptical of the charge against advertising, that it's a form of brain control. I think it's the other way around: advertising that works appeals to preexisting wants.

So why do we want to be "protected" from the ground? I think the answer lies in how we've evolved to understand our environment. We see the world with an incredibly strong bias towards intent.

If you trip on the sidewalk, what do you do? You glare at the sidewalk as if it did it on purpose. Expand that notion to the ground in general: it's where you painfully land if you fall. Someone on the ground is at the mercy of those who stand. For most of human history without indoor plumbing, the ground underneath our feet was filthier than anything we could imagine today. Generally, if you're aware of the ground at all, it's for a bad reason. If bad things happen on the ground, given our predisposition to assign intent, it's only natural to think the ground is out to get us.

How does the barefoot runner overcome this? He/she has to; fear causes tension, and you have to be relaxed to run without shoes. At the moment, I can only think of two ways, which I'll call the religious and the scientific.

The religious method makes peace with the notion of inanimate objects having intent, so they just change the intent. The ground is the Earth, Gaia-like, worthy of worship. The ground no longer intends to cause pain, but rather intends to put us in touch the infinite, to God, etc. With faith, the religious barefooter can traverse over the ground with prayerful joy.

The scientific method is to discard the notion of intent completely. The ground is not out to get us. The ground is not a thing capable of intent. It just is. If you step on it a certain way, you'll feel pain. Step on it another, there's no pain. All one has to do is learn how to run on the ground without pain. Simple process of elimination. You need exposed nerve endings for that. Tradition doesn't matter. Advertising doesn't matter. There is only evidence. Evidence procured by practice.

I've tried to present an unbiased reflection of two ways our natural fear of the ground can be overcome, as I don't want to step in the religion vs science pool (on this blog, anyway).

There are enough real dangers out there in the world, why add unnecessary fear?


  1. Thanks for the comment on my blog post!

    I find your insights refreshing. A lot of what you mentioned happens all sub-consciously. We don't consciously think "Dammit ground!!! Again? Again, I fell and it's all your fault!"

    Our sub-conscious thoughts are also controlled by the media. It does have a lot of influence on our beliefs and our perspectives. Using the scare tactic, they do sell protection and I would be the first to admit that I fell for it.

    I look forward to what else is on your mind ;)

  2. Influenced, maybe, but not controlled in my opinion.

    But yeah, fear sells.

  3. I ran my first barefoot mile last night before my regular shod run and I loved it. I hope to add on a mile each week. My feet feel great this morning and my calves, as expected, are a bit sore. Thanks for blogging your experiences. You have inspired me.


  4. Susan -

    I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed running barefoot. Please feel free to share your experience/questions at any time.

    The sore calves are normal, as they and other muscles get used to being used differently.

    But go ahead and think of the soreness as an indication you need to relax more, especially the feet. You don't need super strong muscles to run barefoot - you need to be efficient.

    Again, congrats. Have fun!