As many of you know, IFCNR seeks out opportunities for social change. A seemingly impossible task when you consider all that could change, and all that should change. However, if we explore the voices of ancient Greek gods and goddesses, we may find inspiration within the overwhelming richness and complexity of these “classic” stories. Even if your knowledge of Greek mythology is limited, turning to these timeless and relatable stories can help to explain the world we currently live in. Therefore, when presented with the daunting task of creating social change, it may be helpful to stick to the basics. Think: What do we know? How can we use what we know to approach this dilemma?
Now, you may be wondering what social change has to do with the ancient Greeks. Consider Apollo, the god of ideal beauty and art. What if he was thrown into an athletic event, something completely foreign and unfathomable to his artistic self? How would he respond? How does he make sense of, and find success in, these unfamiliar surroundings? Although a being of a higher ideal than this earth can provide, Apollo reacts to experiences in much the same way humans do. In essence he is a part of us, not apart from us. Let’s explore the following poem:
by Kaitlyn Aberson
They skate by me at such speeds that
I miss their faces
Five rings dance around my head
Red, gold, blue, black, and green streak by
Much like the paint strokes conducted by my own hand
Much like the sun as I drag it across the sky
I miss my sweet chariot
I hear seven voices, I believe they call them coaches
They scream at me and I do not understand
There is time, I’m going against time
But there is no meter, no rhythm
I can’t find the rhythm
Of my skates as they slice the frozen water
As I begin to stumble I search for
The right words to profess, to yell
I can’t because there is no interpretation, no art
Only winners and losers in sport
The ice tastes of failure
Oh Daphne! Tell me of what I am chasing
There is a line in this tundra
I crossed it and somehow you are not here
Though everyone else is
As I watch the victors crowned
The laurel wreaths rest triumphantly
I ponder how you have escaped me as I caress
The empty air atop my head
In the first stanza, we realize that Apollo is competing in a speed skating event at the Olympics. References to his artistic side, “the paint strokes conducted by my own hand,” inform us that he feels out of place in his surroundings. Furthermore, we can understand his desire for the familiar. The last two lines allude to the myth that Apollo dragged the sun across the sky every day with his chariot. He misses his routine, and he longs for his consistent companions.
As the poem progresses, Apollo struggles to marry his current athletic situation with other artistic understandings (i.e., music, literature). Legend has it that in addition to these attributes, he also had the ability to heal those who came to him with requests and to plague those who wronged him. Apollo manages to encounter an instance in his Olympic event where he must choose whether or not to aid a fallen opponent. If he acts selflessly, Apollo improves the morale and camaraderie of the collective. If he neglects his struggling competitor, Apollo improves his changes of achieving Olympic gold. As evidenced by his eventual loss (he watches the victors touch their laurel wreaths, while he touches the “empty air” above his head), we see that Apollo sacrificed his own agenda of securing Olympic gold in order to come to his opponent’s rescue. But is this really a sacrifice? Did Apollo actually lose?
Now, many of us are don’t have our eyes on Olympic gold. And if you do, let’s have a different conversation. However, most of us are working toward something worthwhile, something bigger than individual or tangible success. At IFCNR, we do our best not to let seeking perfection get in the way of good, allowing the opportunity for profound change to occur. Our goal is not gold; our goal is change. Incremental, sustainable, realistic change. What Apollo accomplished was not failure. He took a risk, he sacrificed tangible reward, and he instigated profound change. Who knows where the impact of this small, selfless act will end? The competitor he helped will help someone else, who will help a few others, who will help many more. What results? Apollo lost Olympic gold, the chance to be apart from nature. Instead, he became a part of nature, a part of the system of change. So, instead of chasing your laurel wreath, offer up your olive branch.