Danger! Uneven ground

3 08 2012

A couple of weeks ago I received an email outlining the need for “urgent” works to be undertaken on the footpath outside the building where I work.  The email described the works as critical to render the paths safe for use.

The funny thing was I remembered walking on one of the paths that morning and I didn’t seem to recall any dangerous chasms or pits, ledges or crumbling ravines.  No matter I thought, clearly there was something I missed that really needed fixing.

As I left work that afternoon I payed particular attention to the paths on the way out of the building and despite actually looking for a problem, still struggled to find any.   I did notice that a couple of concrete slabs had risen a few centimetres in comparison to those next to them, but surely that wasn’t the critical, urgent works to which the all staff email referred?

Turns out it was.  The next morning I again paid particular attention to paths on the way into my office building and noticed that several of the “joins” where concrete sections meet had been ground down to make them totally flat.  The danger apparently had been averted.

A couple of weeks later I happened to mention this comical situation to a new staff member who had previously been in a site management position for the offices where I work.  I alluded to the fact that I was a little bemused as to how a concrete join raising a few centimetres actually constituted a critical or urgent problem.  Her respond simply blew me away.  She explained that in fact the works were tendered following the hospitalisation of two staff in a two week period.  I’ll repeat that to help it sink in, two people had been hospitalised after tripping on raised concrete joins and so this meant that we had to urgently grind down the paths to make them safe.

Since when did the human being become so incapable of normal movement that walking across anything other than perfectly flat ground would pose any problem whatsoever, let alone put someone in hospital?  If ever we needed evidence of a species in trouble, this is it.

I’ve no doubt that the people who fell on the 2-3cm raised concrete joins that then caused a hospital stay were somewhat less than well conditioned.  In fact I’d even go so far as to say that they were probably towards the bottom end of the human physical capability bell curve, at least I hope they are.  But it did make me think about the life of the modern human and whether all the development and “progress” we have made since the industrial revolution has actually helped us to move, or caused us to start losing the ability altogether?  Ask yourself this, what percentage of your life do you actually move on uneven ground?  Now ask yourself another question.  If you lived as a natural wild animal, in nature, when, if ever, would you find yourself on flat ground?  In fact you wouldn’t have to go far back in history at all, probably only a hundred years or so, to realise that only a small percentage of our time would have ever been on flat ground.

Movement in our modern world is entirely predictable.  Our homes have flat floors, our roads and paths are perfectly flat, our buildings have flat floors and even our “nature” parks and reserves tend to have paths and boardwalks put in place to make moving “easy”.  But is it really moving?  Perhaps our desire to make things easy, to make “nature” accessible, and even to protect nature from the impact of people visiting it, is really causing significant problems for humanity?

When I talk to people about what natural movement means, about what I do, I explain that I move and train in nature as a way of increasing my capabilities.  Not only do I not avoid uneven ground or obstacles, I actively seek them out, because moving across and through challenging terrain is quite simply the most effective way of maintaining and increasing my movement capabilities.  And because I do it barefoot I’m building my raw capabilities, available no matter what the situation.

I’d love to think that the modern world will quickly realise the slippery slope it’s created for itself by developing the hell out of everything and flattening out our world.  But it won’t really.  I’d love to think that people will come to their senses and accept responsibility for there own physical incompetence, as opposed to blaming someone else for tripping on a raised paver, but this is unlikely too. At least in the short term.

Still, if enough people stand up and question why all our terrain has to be flat (and boring) maybe we as a species can find our way out of the zoo we’ve created? Maybe.