Save for skateboarding evangelists, skateboarding and religion rarely cross paths in any sort of real way, but my friend Joe Haircut posted a link the other day to this New York Times article titled Skateboarding in Afghanistan Provides a Diversion From Desolation. The article was the story of young Afghan kids who share a small concrete foundation no bigger than the fountain everyone skates at Golden Gate Park, described as “…a decrepit Soviet-style concrete fountain with deep fissures.”
Despite the active environment around them, a half-dozen or more kids assemble peacefully to skate this thing fully-padded, with an instructor or two to keep an eye out for suicide bombers and other terror-related flare ups.
Ten-year-old Hadisa twice had to endure wire beatings from her older brothers for skateboarding with poorer children, but the most inspiring part of the story was a single sentence spoken by Maro, a nine-year-old girl who had just started skateboarding and wanted to skate as much as possible before reaching puberty and being required to spend the rest of her life wearing a veil in public:
[Skateboarding] gives me courage, and once I start skating, I completely forget about my fears.
I couldn’t help but think that in a way, skateboarders, artists, writers and members of other creative subcultures have been sending this message to mainstream society for a very long time, but rather than listen, mainstream society typically responds by using our message to sell products and further promote the very messages our message seeks to undermine.
Instead of sitting around and conjuring up reasons to fight people who are different than us, our message is simple: At the end of the day, fun and everyone getting along, getting what they need and having a good time are the measures of a good day. Even better if we can learn something about one another and have a decent conversation where people can actually disagree without anybody wanting to blow up a car, fight, or even resort to name-calling. And all that with nobody trying to sell anybody anything along the way makes for a win-win scenario.
It’s a saying amongst the shamans that energy goes where attention flows. The more we embrace old mentalities, the more our energies become retro-focused, and what better example of retro-focused thinking than to assign labels to one another for every possible sub-variant of human cognitive belief and have everyone highlight the perceived superiority of their own.
For the most part, skateboarders do the opposite. We look for points of similarity and build upon them, and the first of these is always the most obvious: skateboarding. If you skate and you see somebody else with a skateboard, you have a de facto point of commonality with that person which often makes for a great meeting place.
Anyone can go down to their local spot any given weekend and see these positive examples of social interaction firsthand. For example, guys that have never hung out or seen each other before in their entire lives will, through skating the library or 3rd just a mere couple of hours, end up feeling more or less like they can relate to each other and get along just fine in any other social setting. For the most part, skaters are pretty tolerant people. But believe me, there are intolerant folks in every group, skateboarding including. And fights and all sorts of other crazy stuff does go down. However, even in instances where skaters don’t necessarily like each other, respecting the common right to skate and have a good time usually outweighs any petty points of personal difference.
Point is, any one of these suicide bombers or wire-beating brothers could just as easily pick up a skateboard and learn to ride down the street and exercise the parts of their being that are positive and geared towards fun. Maybe they’d eventually see that even their worst enemies are human beings who also like to have fun, answer life’s questions as they see fit and live the good life. Maybe instead of torturing detainees, we should force extremists and terrorists of any stripe to skateboard together?
Western kids have been using skateboarding and other creative hobbies to deal with their localized forms of societal desolation for over forty years now. Though not always successful, skateboarding has kept quite a few people from the plights of crime, drugs and gangs. In a different and stronger way, skateboarding is quite literally a diversion from desolation for these Afghan children. The fear of bombings and raids and enemy planes overhead is most certainly a form of desolation.
And these young children are using skateboarding to help them learn to deal with their desolation. Not democracy, not religion, neither education nor politics, but skateboarding, a kid’s pastime requiring only a simple toy based on the concept of human enjoyment.
What a concept.