Simon Barnes, the Chief Sports Writer at the Times is one of my favourite sports journalists. Unfortunately online his work is squirreled away behind the Times’ daft pay firewall so I’m afraid I can’t link appropriately. Instead I’ve typed out excerpts from a piece I tore out of the old-school print version a while back. He is writing about sport, but it’s also one of the best answers I have seen for the old question of “why do you go on expeditions?”
Sportspeople not only put themselves through the agonies of expectation. Most of them must also accept the possibility -many of these the near certainty- of physical pain… Most of the reality of sport is pain and anxiety and defeat.
My suggestion is that sport is about the human need to live intensely. To live with ardour. We tend to believe that what we want out of life is comfort and security and absence of stress, but that is only half right. We also want to experience heightened emotions. It’s not that we accept pain, fear and anxiety as an acceptable exchange for moments of euphoria. We also crave the pain and fear. We crave the whole package of despair and delight.
In former times there were things such as sabre-toothed tigers to add intensity to human life. More recently there were at least wars and civil unrest and lawlessness to keep up your interest. But recently life, for most people, is comparatively comfortable. So much so that we had stuff like spare time.
So we filled it with a way of being uncomfortable. We invented sport. Sport provides people with a way of living intensely.
For some people, intense living becomes a compulsion… It’s about balance. Without intensity, life has no savour, but without safety, life becomes, for most of us, unliveable. Sport fills the 21st-century shortfall in intensity.