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It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Bridging the gap between neighbors

Of course, New Yorkers know what a marathon is: crazy people running 26 miles to prove they’re crazy.

Yeah, we have vague memories of the Greek guy who shouted, “We win!” then collapsed and died. In fact, people run marathons for causes and dedications. So, why not recognize that marathons can be personal, and when completed, life changing. This column provides you with a method and incentive to launch your own marathon. Here are the requirements:

A Marathon must have Significant Impact. The Greek victory at Marathon opened the Golden Age of Greek culture. Their philosophy, art, music, literature continue to enrich our culture today.

The name ‘marathon’ originated from the name of the seacoast town where Persian invaders landed hoping to conquer the Greek states. Marathon was no ordinary battle. It tested whether the Greeks could stop the Persian expansion and preserve their civilization. The citizens in Athens knew the odds against them were bleak. The Athens army of 10,000 would face an invasion force of 100,000. How could Athens win, you ask?

Genius can overwhelm any foe. The Athenians positioned their battle line to be weak at the center, but with reserves at either end. The Persians could see the obvious weakness and attacked the center. They were tricked — their vastly superior numbers were ineffective as the Greek flanks closed, simultaneously attacking both sides of the Persian ranks. In confused panic, the Persians broke ranks and retreated to their nearby ships.

Running a marathon must require a personal triumph. The “we win” guy, Pheidippides, should be credited with more than running the distance from Marathon to Athens to give the good news. In fact, his feat was amazing.

Just prior to the battle, he ran to Sparta (a rival Greek city-state) to warn of the impending Persian invasion. His task was to persuade the Spartan army to join the Athenian forces at Marathon. To accomplish all this, he ran an estimated 150 miles in the three days before the battle.

Now you know a marathon must be significant in impact and personal in triumph. So here is a challenge that also qualifies: Choose one Shelter Island neighbor whose politics you deplore and build a relationship, even friendship. Timing is flexible, but let’s say three months. Challenging, yes, but not impossible.

America faces a serious test of whether the self-government we won in 1776 will survive. The point of this effort is only to open communications that are honest and independent of the typical concentration people choose.

This is not about converting to the other side, but we do need to turn down the heat. In fact, differences among us are critical. They protect us from concentrating too much power in the Right or Left to maintain a healthy balance of power.

The people rightly fear dictatorship from the Right and communism from the Left. History shows that when such extremes take power, war and misery soon follow.

Do not waste efforts on education, podcasts, editorials, books, or reasoning. The first thing you do is show interest in your “target” person. You will be amazed at how much you did not know. Brief, person-to-person engagements is the currency you have. This process is not about eliminating differences and certainly not about persuasion.

One tool: create opportunities to share activities, such as beach cleanups, concerts, fundraising events, tag sales — any politically neutral opportunity are good candidates. In this marathon to reduce hate, your objective is not to change minds but to open them. Good people can differ without being obnoxious. You get there with time, patience and listening more than talking.

Taking interest and asking questions is the essence to friendly conversation. We believe that honest, rational people will keep democracy as the only system that guarantees preserving differences.

Richard Denning writes the ‘Run For Your Life’ column for the Reporter. He has run in the NYC Marathon eight times, Marine Corps and Ocean City once each. Training in preparation is about 500 miles for each, spaced over three months.