It was the final Q&A session following a talk I’d given to a corporate group of a few hundred people on personal growth and risk-taking, illustrated with examples from my own experiences of being involved with the unusual profession I’ve chosen for myself – parkour coaching – when this particular question was put to me, quite earnestly:
‘What would it take for your organisation to work with a company like Redbull?’
Now, the questioner was no doubt expecting a ‘happy compromise’ type answer in which I would talk of the need for those companies to take more social responsibility, to put money into positive, maybe charitable, projects et cetera. Many in the room had worked with and for such corporations, and were likely surprised by my earlier statement that Parkour Generations had never, nor ever would, work with any brand or product that was clearly in direct opposition to the principles of our work – that of helping people develop a healthy body, mind and soul to better understand themselves and fulfil their innate potential. No matter the amount of money they threw at us.
I didn’t answer immediately, I wanted to think it through to see if there was, in fact, anything a company like xxxxxx (insert-unhealthy-or-unhelpful-product/brand of choice here) could do to persuade us to collaborate. I couldn’t take too long to mull it over though, there being an audience of several hundred young business people staring at me while I let silence reign.
Fortunately the answer came to me fairly quickly, and it was the same no matter how I looked at it.
‘There’s nothing they could do, short of ditching their entire product range and producing something that actually benefited people’s health.’
Pretty simple, really. And pretty unlikely.
The fact is that brands like that and our company have completely unrelated, even contrary, aims.
Ours is to help people discover their true holistic nature through movement, challenge and exploration – through the crucible of authentic physical practice – and to maintain and disseminate the spirit of that discipline that can have such a powerful and positive effect on those it touches.
Theirs is to make money by selling concoctions of unhealthy chemicals, while marketing them as ‘energy providers’ or ‘fuel’ for athletes and those who lead a physical life. The two aims couldn’t be further removed. It struck me that a better question would be why would we want to collaborate with such organisations?
One common compromise response I have heard to this second question goes like this: ‘Ah, but if you took the money you would earn from doing a few jobs for this or that tobacco/alcohol/gambling/sugar soda brand then you could reinvest it in amazing social inclusion projects or charitable outreach programmes.’ And that’s reasonable. Or at least it sounds reasonable. But ‘reasonable’ has convinced countless well-intentioned people in every walk of life to abandon their principles, fooling them into abandon their integrity one small step at a time.
Sometimes you have to reject what’s reasonable. Your line has to be drawn somewhere. Accept the red-bullion once and what’s to stop you doing it again? And again. And again…
As a wise master once said, ‘Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny’.1
At Parkour Generations we believe in practising what we preach. Maintaining integrity, both on a personal and a professional level, means doing just that – walking the talk.
We’ve had huge amounts of money offered to us to perform or provide services for unhealthy product brands – the kind of amounts that would make anyone stop and think. Energy drinks, alcohol, tobacco, soda brands; all have at some stage in our 15-year history offered to sponsor our events, to hire us for a TV commercial, to slap our name on a product or to put on a high-end product launch.
We’ve never accepted even one such offer.
How could we? How can you speak of health, vitality, freedom of thought, holistic living, while pushing and endorsing the very things that counteract those goals? How do you do that and look yourself in the mirror every morning?
I know I couldn’t.
Parkour is about taking the road less travelled by, and choosing the harder path every time. It’s about understanding that excellence does not arise from simply doing what is convenient or what pays well or what advances your personal career. I’ve seen many ‘traceurs’ accept money to endorse alcohol, gambling, even tobacco. I’ve seen parkour practitioners go against their stated principles to collaborate with huge organisations that clearly intend to undermine and exploit the authentic parkour community. The Olympic Games are sponsored by Coca-Cola and MacDonalds. That’s not right.
For me, it’s simple. For me, it is black-and-white.
Stick to them.
Because if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.
1 Yoda, Jedi Master – I’ll quote the truth where I find it, thank you.