The genius of the novel, according to Kundera, is that it is able to accommodate multiple moral universes, each interacting with the other, without the need to subjugate any one of them to some all-encompassing conclusion. The novel is pluralism in action. As Kundera puts it: the novel is "the imaginary paradise ... where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be understood, both Anna and Karenin".
I had not come across the quotation by Milan Kundera before, so when I read it it was fresh and I almost shouted out loud some inanity like “that is so right”. Novels can increase our understanding by encouraging an inclusive form of thinking that recognises characters/people on their own terms. When you look at Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice she is not just silly and ridiculous. She is a woman with anxiety about the future well-being of her family in the face of a genuine problem, whilst her husband, a much more intelligent and sympathetic character, locks himself in his study and avoids the issue. In the best novels, as in life, things are not black and white.
Surprisingly it is the same with running. On one level there could not be a more clear cut sport –you run so far in such a time. There is no dispute and the winner of the race is the one who goes fastest. Simple.
Except that it isn’t. It is not the reason I run. It is not the reason that hundreds of thousands of people plod along the streets. Most of us will not be near the front of a race and so we need other motivation – and in that motivation there are a host of different stories and criteria of success. Some people want to prove themselves through competition whilst others want to prove to themselves that they can run to the end of the street. Some want to loose weight and feel better about themselves whilst other just want the satisfaction of movement. Some people are pushing themselves hard, others are introducing a balance into a sedentary life. The wonderful thing is that all reasons are valid and there is as much strength, determination and virtue at the back of the pack as there is at the front.
Understanding people’s hopes and expectations and being able to celebrate their successes enlarges us all and also makes us realise that there is no one-way to do things. No one possess the truth.
In that way running is just like the novel.