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A Tale of Two Gyms


tripod-turnstileThere once were two gyms.

Both of them had great facilities, but at one point, Todd, the owner of one of the gyms, decided he wanted to create a situation that would help those who were overweight and out of shape by creating a turnstile that deducted a portion of the muscle-building, calorie=burning result from everyone that had just worked out and made it available to those who hadn’t exercised.

It really was revolutionary! Those who couldn’t afford a gym membership or had been injured and couldn’t workout could now simply walk through this turnstile and experience a change in their body as a certain number of calories were automatically burned and a muscle group of their choice was improved. They didn’t have to put forth any effort – all they had to do was simply walk through the turnstile and just like that, their bodies were adjusted as though they had just perspired and trained for a full 90 minutes.

It was a huge success! Suddenly people who had been struggling with a weight problem were able to see a difference in the way their clothes fit and those who had never had any real muscle tone to speak of were seeing a difference in their strength and endurance.

Meanwhile, Nathan, the owner of the other gym, continued to do business as usual. Some of his customers changed their membership and went over to Todd’s facility, but Nate didn’t seem to be overly concerned. It was as though he was waiting for something.

After about a month some of Todd’s members were noticing a problem. Some of those who were walking through the turnstile because they couldn’t train were heading down to the “Gut Bomb” restaurant down the road immediately afterwards and consuming an exorbitant number of calories. And them some of those who could workout were simply choosing not to and instead just walking through the turnstile. Those that were still motivated and disciplined were just as consistent as they had been before, but they were getting frustrated to see the fruit of their labor being distributed to a group of people, some of whom were not putting forth any effort on their own and were instead just benefiting from the efforts of others.

“Todd, we’ve made a decision,” said Rick, one of the members speaking for a small group that had assembled in front of Todd’s office.

“Great,” said Todd. “What’s on your mind?”

“We’re headed over to Nate’s gym.”

“Why would you do that?” said Todd. “You guys have been coming here for years.”

‘It’s your turnstile, man,” said Rebecca, of the other members. “We’re tired of training as hard as we do only for that work to be divvied up and distributed to some who either don’t work at all or are taking advantage of the fact that they can workout for 10 minutes and walk through your turnstile and, just like that, they’ve exercised for over an hour and a half. It’s not fair and we’re done.”

“But some of these people need help,” pleaded Todd.

“Then help them, “said Rick. “But help them with your resources. Don’t force upon your members a situation that assumes everyone is working as hard as everyone else, because they’re not.”

For a moment, Todd looked skeptical. “I don’t know if I agree with that,” he said.

“Well, you’re not the one on the treadmill. You’re not the one working out and cranking out all the reps,” said Rick.

“Have you been paying attention to your Group Fitness Classes,” asked Rebecca, another one of the members that had congregated around Todd’s office.

“What do you mean?” asked Todd.

Rebecca paused, as though she was having a hard time believing that Todd hadn’t noticed.

“You used to have 20-30 people in your classes at any given time. Now you’re lucky to have five or six. Does that not tell you something?”

Todd was getting a little indignant. “Well, what should it tell me?” he asked.

Rick paused for a minute, recognizing that the tone of the conversation was getting ready to become more heated than it needed to be.

“Todd,” said Rick in a very measured tone. “Look. We love you, we love your facility, but we’re weary of having to support others who, in some cases are unwilling to support themselves. It’s not a question of being open to helping someone as much as its being willing to subsidize someone’s bad habits.”

Todd was still not convinced there was a valid point being made.

“I really don’t know how you could feel that way,” he said.

“Well,” said Rick, “it’s pretty easy. I get done with a workout and I watch some of the beneficiaries of the work that I’ve just done on their behalf walk through your turnstile and then head on down to the ‘Gut Bomb.’ You don’t value what you haven’t earned. Consequently, they have no problem believing that they can outrun their fork. So, while I’m watching what I eat, they’re just eating what’s in front of them and pretty much destroying all the good that was done for them by others in the gym just a moment ago.”

Rebecca chimed in. “And Todd, I’ve seen it too. I know you want to help people, but you’ve got to be smart in the way you help them and not just generous.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Rick.

“Saying you want help implies that you’re making an effort and you’re needing assistance,” said Rebecca. “But you can get in line with those who are genuinely working to improve their situation and, while you look identical on paper, there are some who are actually working out on their own and watching their diet and there’s some who are expecting you to do everything for them.”

“Well,” said Rick, “I’ve got to tell you that I’m really surprised, folks. To me, you all sound very selfish and…I don’t know what to say.”

“Todd, let me ask you something,” said Rick. “How often have you worked out yourself since you installed those turnstiles?”

For a moment, there was an awkward silence in the room.

As the group started to make their way out of Todd’s office, Rick lingered and stuck his hand out to shake Todd’s hand.

“No hard feelings, Todd” said Rick.

Todd shook Rick’s hand but didn’t say anything.

Outside Todd joined Rebecca and the others and made their over to Nate’s gym. As they walked in, they were greeted by the customary sound of weights being moved around and the muffled din of hype music being played over a speaker in the corner.

“Hey, guys! Can I help you?” said Nate.

“I believe you can!” said Rick. “But, first I was wondering if we could sit down and talk with you for a little bit. I think I speak for everyone here – we’ve got a couple of questions.”

“Let me guess. You’re coming over from Todd’s place, aren’t you?” asked Nate.

Rick looked at him with a bit of an incredulous look on his face. “How did you…?”

“I’ve had several people come over with some concerns. Do y’all want to come in the conference room?” asked Nate.

One of the group members gestured to Rick and told him that he could speak for the group. It was obvious the others were interested in looking around. Rebecca, on the other hand, remained.

“I’d like to be a part of this conversation,” she said.

“C’mon in,” said Nate, as the three of them started over to the glass enclosed conference room. As they sat down, Nate closed the door.

“Do you know Todd at all?” asked Rick.

“We were college roommates,” said Nate.

“Was he talking about his turnstiles back then?” asked Rebecca, sarcastically.

Nate hesitated for a moment. “Todd’s a good man with a big heart,” said Nate. “But he and I differ as far as how to best help people get fit.”

“How do you mean?” asked Rick.

“Fitness isn’t something that you can give someone. Being out of shape isn’t an ailment that you can remedy with a gift certificate or a free jar of protein powder. Ultimately, it’s an extension of a person’s sense of discipline,” said Nate.

“So, you don’t agree with his turnstiles?” asked Rick.

“I don’t agree with the notion that you’re helping someone by suggesting that you can present them with something that can’t be given,” said Nate.

“That’s one of the most sensible things I’ve heard in a while,” said Rebecca. “And I think I understand what you’re saying, but explain it. What do you mean?”

“Fitness is more than just your appearance or your ability to perform,” said Nate. “Like any other kind of success, it has as its basis a mindset that’s resolved to make wise choices and, in some cases, some sacrifices that aren’t especially convenient. While I can provide you a facility and teach you some training techniques and dietary practices, I can’t give you either the resolve or the ambition you need to put those disciplines into practice.”

“But what do you say to someone like Todd who’s determined to give people who can’t afford a gym membership the chance to be fit?” asked Rick.

“Well,” said Nate, “there’s a difference between an opportunity and an outcome. I can’t give you a college degree without an education, just like I can’t give you the status of being an accomplished musician if you’ve never practiced. Todd’s not wrong in wanting to give people the chance to succeed, but there’s a difference between giving them a chance and giving them the result.”

“Well,” said Rebecca, “I would add that you can’t give away something that’s not yours.”

Rick smiled.

“No, I’m serious,” said Rebecca. “Todd’s whole system was based on the efforts of others. There were some that walked through those turnstiles that had no intention of working out or keeping their diet intact. It’s not that they ‘couldn’t,’ as much as they ‘wouldn’t. And, frankly, that’s why I’m here. I got tired of paying into a system that wasn’t helping people as much as it was subsidizing a bad work ethic.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” said Nate. “Todd and I talked about this a lot. If you want to know the truth, it’s why we didn’t go into business together. I give people who can’t afford their membership dues a break on the amount. Sometimes, I even let them come in for free. But I don’t try to give them something they have to earn.”

“Because they don’t value it, right?” asked Rick.

“It’s more than that,” said Nate. “You can still enjoy something you don’t especially appreciate. I can enjoy the taste of a meal that I didn’t make. But if I want to eat that meal again, I’m either going to be completely dependent on whoever it is that made that meal, or…”

“You have to learn how to make it yourself,” said Rick.

“Exactly,” said Nate. “And I’m not going to learn how to make it myself as long as there’s an option to simply let others do it for me. That doesn’t make me a bad person, necessarily, it’s just human nature to default to the lowest common denominator and the path of least resistance.”

“And Rebecca, I agree with you,” continued Nate. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Todd’s a good man. But when you put yourself in a situation where you decide who gets the handout and who has to provide the handout, you’re placing yourself in a spot that’s vulnerable to corruption and compromise. What Todd is doing is attempting to deploy a Socialist approach to physical fitness and it’s just like Margret Thatcher said, only a little different – it will work until you run out of somebody else’s sweat and muscle. Todd has to be judge and jury, as far as determining who’s deserving, and he also has to ensure that he has resources to distribute. Those turnstiles will cease to make a difference if he doesn’t have motivated members continuing to supply him with the workout capital he wants to give to other people.”

“And when he runs out…” started Rick.

“When he runs out, not only is his little charity done, but his business is going to be bordering on collapse as well,” said Nate. “And the extent to which he wants to pursue this will determine the sort of tactics he’ll use to keep people feeding into the system and, ultimately, keeping him in business.”

“That sounds shady,” said Rebecca.

“Well, if it’s not shady, it certainly isn’t smart,” said Nate.

The three of them sat in a contemplative silence for a minute.

“Well,” said Rebecca. “I’m going to go and engage a capitalistic approach to physical fitness and go work out! Only I’ll be training knowing that I don’t have to give anything up for a turnstile afterwards!”

“Please do,” said Nate as the three of them got up and started heading for the door. “And as long as we’re talking about capitalism, don’t forget to come by my office so I can sign you up as a paying member. I wouldn’t want you to feel neglected!”

Rebecca smiled. “No, we wouldn’t want that…”




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