Sunday, August 19, 2012

152 Monday Musings: Two and a half seconds in 100 years

152 Monday Musings: Two and a half seconds in 100 years

This is probably the longest journey mankind has ever undertaken. In times of instant gratification and quick fixes, this is a humbling reminder that great journeys are often those that take time. If one looks at the world records held for the most important race in the sporting world, one which crowns the winner as the fastest human being in the universe, the 100m men race and traces its timings across the last 100 years, one would be left gasping at the enormity of a simple and small number.

The list of winners and timings vary basis various sources, but according to one source,   (source: one Thomas Burke ran the race in 12 seconds in 1896 and lets begin to trace this journey from there. Many other sprinters pushed the boundries and the celebrated US runner Jessie Owens knocked off a cool one and a half seconds and clocked 10.3 seconds in the year 1936, a good 40 years later than Burke. The 10 second barrier was broken in 1968 by James Hines who clocked 9.90 seconds. It has taken the next 60 plus years to push the envelope by another half a second, when Usain Bolt clocked 9.62 seconds a few days back. So the arc of time has travelled more than a hundred years to make progress worth 2 seconds and a bit more. Read it again and let the enormity of it seep in - 100 long years and a progress of just 2 seconds. It cannot get any more overwhelming or grander than this. No other figure with its innate 'tiny-ness' has been so impactful in the history of human progress. It tells us so much about us, our pursuits, and our relentlessness - and it also, if we bother to apply it, puts so many things in perspective.

It tells us that real progress takes time, really long, and frustratingly long period of time. It also tells us that many people will come together and push thier boundries a tad fraction of a second more than the last one and in doing so will push the history of the species an inch forward. The future will stand tall only on the shoulders of the past. It tells us that the agonising wait is so much worth it. It tells us that some times real progress is imperceptible to the naked eye and to really appreciate this try imagining the duration of 2 seconds - its equal to blinking of the eye!!. It tells us the virtues of being at the job and chipping of the rock painstakingly before the statue in it reveals itself.

The story of these two seconds tell us to take a hard look at the growing importance of speed in many aspects of our pursuits today and forces us to question the contemporary wisdom on quick fixes and overnight success. Swiftness is a virtue but not always. This might be counterintuitive to the ways of the world today, but there is enough evidence in the natural world to indicate the virtues of slow progress. All natural processes take a certain time - like procreation, blooming of flowers, ripening of fruits so on and so forth. Anything less than that time is considered unnatural and yields a result which is sub optimal and in most cases abnormal, dysfunctional, and bitter. 

Kabeer says
Dheere dheere re mana, dheere sab kuch hoye
maali seenche sau ghada, ritu aaye phal hoye
(Things take time; Even you water many times, the fruit will bloom only when its time for it do so)