There are no guarantees in life.
Most of us, especially those of us in the Industrialized West, have been raised in such security the concept of risk is an anathema. We joke about how kids are raised today versus how we were. The differences are really quite staggering.
I never wore a helmet when riding my bike, even though I rode BMX style on trails of our own construction. My range of play exceeded the confines of my neighborhood, while I limited my daughters to the end of the block.
Why we are so much more limiting? Certainly, my parents felt bad whenever we got hurt, but I think they recognized that this was a part of life and while they felt a personal responsibility to respond to whatever trauma had occurred they did not necessarily feel responsible for the trauma.
Now I think we feel responsible for the trauma. “If only I had wrapped little Bobby in bubble wrap and confined him to the closet he wouldn’t have fallen and busted his head open.”
I saw a news article yesterday talking about how most Americans have forgotten there’s a war in Afghanistan. I knew the war was going on, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought about it. People are dying on a daily basis at the behest of my nation and I hadn’t given it a moment’s thought in months.
I think because it’s unpleasant, by most accounts a failure, and something you and I can’t do anything about. It’s bad news and we don’t talk about it.
We don’t talk about it, because it’s unpleasant. We avoid risk, because of the possibility of unpleasantness. Is this what we’ve become?
Wasn’t the defining quality of humanity our ability to choose short term pain in order to achieve a long term gain? Our current rung on the evolutionary ladder was achieved through risk, through embracing the possibility of failure and trying anyway, and accepting the short term discomfort of effort and strain for the “maybe” of a big payoff.
Is this the consequence of those cumulative payoffs? Have we reached such a station of comfort that no further effort seems worth it?
Last weekend Samantha and I cleared a hillside around the garden that was overrun with poke weed. Historically, in the rural South, the young leaves of a poke weed were cooked and eaten. Poke is poisonous. My goats won’t eat it. In order to eat it it must be boiled multiple times, the water from each boiling discarded and replaced with fresh water.
I marvelled at how we came to know how to eat a weed that animals wouldn’t eat. It then occurred to me that whoever learned to eat poke was starving. Poke was the only thing available.
Our comforts are an amazing gift, they allow us time and space to invent and create in a capacity historically unknown, but they’re completely wasted if all they do is lull us into complacency.