Moral Metronomes

I like, but don’t love, this song:

The reason I listen to it dozens of times a week is that the hand-clapping is at the perfect pace for sprints when I’m jogging. No matter how fatigued, sore, stiff or not-in-the-mood I am, if I time my strides to the beat of this song, I can get a good 2.5-minute sprint in.

There are a number of other songs that have this same effect (including, surprisingly enough, this one). Regardless of what stage of my run I’m at, I can always find the motivation to sprint whenever they come up on shuffle.

I made a playlist of all my jogging metronomes to listen to during my leg of the DHL Run this year, and managed to blast through the 5k in 20:34.  I can’t be sure, but I’m convinced this is significantly better than I could have run it if I wasn’t listening to music, or listening to something that didn’t push me to a pace just a little faster than comfortable.

I wonder how much of a metaphor for human behavior this is. You know those songs you know the words to, but only if you’re listening to them? If ‘Umbrella’ comes on the radio, you can sing along to every word, but if you asked you right now what the first line of that song is, you’d have no clue. I have a feeling there’s a lot of things we know, but only if the right music is playing.

I think religion, for example, works as a kind of moral metronome. Every decision you have to make, from the profound (should you leave your husband?) to the banal (Should you take the last croissant at Friday breakfast?), there’s a beat to step to. Maybe it’s not the morality of religious rules that gives them their strength, but their ubiquity. No matter what activity you’re performing, you can find a moral pace just a little better than you could be otherwise.

It’s not just religious rules, of course. All ideologies tend toward ubiquity. This is why there’s such a wide range of behaviors associated with things like veganism, or being really into punk music. There’s no reason your eating habits or musical taste have to affect the way you dress or decorate your house, but they do. Once you’ve found a paradigm for one aspect of your life, it’s natural to sync everything else to it.

The debate over religion vs. atheism often just compares monstrosities. Mao was worse than Constantine! The Inquisition out-horrors the Holocaust! But these discussions always ignore the tiny decisions people make every day to the rhythm of their religion or their ideology.  Maybe it’s not the big ugly things that matter, it’s the itty bitty pretty ones.

1 Comment

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One response to “Moral Metronomes

  1. whiskydrinkinchimneysweep

    Bravo! This rang very true. So plain, gently caressing the face, true. I’m not a religious person nor a spiritual one. My lack of those is knitted in my decor. In my decision making. My moral compass is there. The push for it comes from my mom giving us guidance growing up. I come from a family of stubborn principles. I love that every person has found their own pattern of living. Itty bitty pretty ones, indeed.