One of the definitions of folly is “an often extravagant picturesque building erected to suit a fanciful taste.” It is in this sense, metaphorically, that I refer to Lewis Pugh’s swim across the North Pole. Not, as one might imagine, clad in some spage-age material to shield him from the -1.7 celsius water but in a fraking speedo, cap, goggles, and core body temperature sensor.
Imagine, swimming through water colder than ice for one kilometer, for over 18 minutes.
You can’t. I can’t. On some deep and fundamental level, the act is one of folly. But a folly that is beyond merely fanciful. The point that Mr. Pugh wanted to make was simple: it should be impossible to make the swim when and where he did because that entire area should have been solid ice. But it was not. Vast areas of open water at the North Pole indicating some of the most troubling effects of climate change. Mr. Pugh made this impossible swim—impossible on so many levels—to raise awareness of climate change.
In so doing he also demonstrated just how capable the human body and mind and spirit can be; just how beautiful and courageous we can become if we believe in ourselves and work with others to achieve what might appear to be folly. There is a glut in this world of cheap, misguided, and short-sighted folly, mostly focused in those who make political and economic decisions at the highest levels of government and corporations (is there a difference?). There is, as Lewis Pugh shows us, another kind of folly. One that takes your breath away and reveals the best of what it means to be human.