The grease board listed, in red and blue dry-erase marker, all the movements, reps and weights involved in the day’s workout. I was familiar with everything on the board… with the exception of one word. I’d never seen it before in this context. So, I went ahead and took a radical step…

I asked what it meant.

The instructor looked at me quizzically and responded “Are you sure you should be in this class?
I’d like to be in this class.” I said.
Well, you need to be familiar with the terms.

The gentleman next to me bent at the hip, leaned toward me and said “All it means is that you only do that movement once, at the very end of the workout. You don’t do it in every set.”

That sentence cost him seven seconds and helped me to connect to the culture and prepared me to participate.

Creating a culture (religious, fitness, etc…) is a work of art and art is about the connection between people. To ensure that a culture continues to be art (that it continues to be about people rather than itself), the artists who maintain that culture must bear the responsibility of translation. There will always be, as a part of any particular culture, symbols and language that are unfamiliar to the uninitiated. Those unfamiliarities can either be obstacles to connection or opportunities. The instructor allowed my lack of tribal knowledge to be a point of distinction between me and the “real” members of the tribe. The gentleman next to me was a better artist; he was willing to do the work of translation by taking the opportunity to connect, to help and to teach.

You’ve likely been in my shoes. Maybe you didn’t know how to pronounce the item on the menu or didn’t know when to sit or stand. Maybe you didn’t know what to wear or who to talk to. And hopefully, someone who knew what you didn’t know translated for you and invited you in. If they had, they’d have been a good artist. Their culture needs them.

Just as likely, you’ve been on the other side of that scenario.  You knew how to pronounce the item on the menu and knew when to sit and stand. You knew what to wear and who to talk to. And hopefully, you took the hand of the new face who lacked that knowledge and helped them connect. If you do that, you’re a good artist. Your culture needs you.

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