I am a member of a large masters swim team. We have roughly 80 members, about half of whom regularly swim very demanding workouts early in the morning. This provides me with chances to interact with my teammates in a setting that is well outside both their social and work norms.
What I find most interesting is that, in the pool setting, the norm changes dramatically. Everyone is on an equal basis; that is, we’re all in our Speedos with none of our usual crutches to hide behind, and a new primary standard on which to judge others. This standard is not, as you might expect, based on speed, but on effort.
Although effort is not a pure measurement of character, it is a reflection that is far different than the job we have, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the house we live in. In the pool, I find that, because there are fewer criteria, we are all more like equals than we are outside the water. The same holds true in the locker room (at least for the men) where we’re all naked in the shower and cannot hide our true body shapes whatsoever.
I find it interesting that speed, at least on my team, only places us in lanes with others of similar speed; it is not the determining factor of whether or not we fit in. What makes the biggest difference for those who attend regularly is the willingness to work hard. Because of the early (~6 am) start time required, and the physical effort required, we have become, for the most part, each other’s biggest cheerleaders. At team events, whether swim meets or dinners, we all see ourselves as equals and partners.
Is there a lesson here? Yes. We create castes in our culture based on political views, choice of religion or non-religion, wealth, and other criteria, then defame those who don’t fit in. In the pool, my team is made up of members from many of our social castes, yet when thrown in the water in just our Speedos, those cultural restrictions fade away and we are simply friends.