A Lesson in Sharing – Gym Style

Gym RulesJust the other day I realized that there is an interesting societal dynamic at the gym involving shared property. I’m going to examine that idea and how it applies to the modern world.

The gym is a classic example of a group of strangers sharing property. They share floor space, benches, and equipment. There are certain rules of etiquette at the gym and as long as everyone is playing by these regulations it works quite well. When there are those who do not play by the rules, particularly if they do so knowingly and selfishly, then the entire system is in peril.

Let me begin by explaining how things work at the gym. Generally speaking a person should only use a particular piece of equipment for a short period of time. The length of time depends on the piece of equipment in question and the number of people at the gym. A stationary bike or treadmill might occupy someone for sixty minutes while the bench press machine should only be used for perhaps a minute at a time. Another rule involves blocking off walking lanes or equipment. Certain exercises are done where there is available space on the floor. When partaking in these exercises it’s considered bad form to position yourself in a way that blocks access to such equipment. Another rule involves sitting at equipment when you are not using it. Generally it is polite to get up between what is called “sets” and allow another person to “work in” for one of their own. Wiping your sweat off equipment is considered good form as well.

I don’t want to get too deeply into a discussion of how life at the gym should proceed, but instead I will focus on the quality of the experience when etiquette is followed and when it is not. When I’m working a piece of equipment and step away and another fellow works in, then steps away allowing me to return; there is a sense of community that borders on euphoria. Everyone is playing by the rules and everyone wins. Likewise when someone is talking on the phone while sitting idly on a bench there is a malaise that descends upon the place. Everyone glances at the offender and grimaces. Even if someone eventually steps in and takes the bench the mood is somewhat ruined. There is some satisfaction in seeing a selfish person put in their place but being forced to do it is unpleasant.

Another example might be the highway entrance ramp when a series of drivers manuever their cars in every other vehicle fashion perfectly as opposed to someone rushing ahead to gain an advantage.

Therein lies the problem of course. People maneuvering to gain an advantage don’t play by the rules. They subtly or overtly diminish the experience for everyone else. Is it possible to get everyone to play by the rules or even desirable? Aren’t the rule breakers, the women who are not well-behaved, the ones who drive progress? Is there some middle ground where we follow the rules of polite public behavior and still push the edges of possibility? I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer but I would like to see people follow the simple rules of life.

I think angry and selfish people will always diminish the experience for the rest of us. I also think it’s a shame. It’s not a matter of teaching manners at school. It depends completely upon a person’s upbringing. I also think it’s possible to be aggressive, to try to win, to get ahead, and still be fair and polite. Maybe I’m wrong.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (or: How to overcome your dysfunctional upbringing and become a hero)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

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