When I say “went” – it runs past the end of our street and I’d forgotten about it like every year, until I was reminded by helicopters hovering over the house while I was having breakfast. So I finished my muesli in haste and went out with bed-hair and no make-up to see what was going on.
Outside was a glorious sunny Sunday, and streams of visitors in team t-shirts poured down from the train station onto Deptford High Street, all fresh and chirpy, ready to cheer on their friends and family with all sorts of banners and balloons. I felt seriously under-dressed.
Walking along the road with the merry crowd, excitement was building up in the air, the type of joyous anticipation you find in stadiums and concerts, or at carnivals or fireworks.
As I joined a group of onlookers to watch hundreds marathonians run past at what seemed to me the speed of light (and I’m not even talking about the pros, who were probably half-way to Central London by the time I left the house) I had a nice surprise.
Among the mixed crowd of sports enthusiasts, families, and locals like me who just stood staring, slightly incredulous, I spotted a group of older children leaning on the barriers waving arms, clapping and shouting encouragement: “C’mon guys! … you can do it!”…you’re doing great!!”. Many adults were also having a fantastic time, some watching in wonder with a big grin; others shouting and whistling almost as loud as the kids.
The beauty of it was that none of those people were cheering on anyone they knew – God knows if they even got to see the people they painted banners for, since over 30,000 people were running. Rather they were encouraging the entire sweaty colourful lycra flow and rejoicing for every single person in the race, from the pros that came first, to the fit amateurs that came later, down to the breathless and out-of-shape that came last.
A cynic would say that it’s a bit pathetic to run a marathon if you aren’t fit and seem in danger of collapsing less than 3 miles into it. But of course anyone who has run a marathon, or accomplished any sort of noteworthy achievement, will remember that they all started from zero, sometimes looking a bit pathetic themselves.
So what the non-cynics were cheering on wasn’t the performance as much as the effort, the collective endeavour – with respect and admiration for the great, and perhaps respect and compassion for the not-so-great (who in truth deserve our admiration too, for having the sheer balls of running in the first place; I wouldn’t!).
I felt overwhelmed by a warm fuzzy feeling, and comforted by the happy fact that given half a chance, we humans will wholeheartedly rejoice for the success of others… even though we often feel compelled to jealousy or sneering, or putting them down if it makes us look better.
So as I looked at the cheering kids thinking that they will be the colleagues, bosses, partners, parents and citizens of tomorrow, I hoped they’ll remember how good it feels to cheer on the success of others.
Not least because by putting our petty grievances to the side and encouraging the success of those around us, we are really cheering on ourselves – both as individuals and a species. By encouraging our fellow human beings to be all that they can be, we push the limits of what is possible for us to do (to infinity, and beyond!). We also give ourselves a chance to become a positive and supportive person.
And since positive supportive people are everyone’s favourite people, we’re all the more likely to get all the encouragement back.
See, how we’re all linked to each other- you, me, and everybody else?
I eventually left the crowd and went to buy a coffee with a spring in my step, all warmed up by the April sun and the knowledge that what goes around comes around.
And it’s all for the best.