“While we live, let us live!” That’s the inscription of Lady Vivimus, the sword that Oscar Gordon used in Robert Heinlein’s book “Glory Road.”
Jordan Peterson, in his “12 Rules for Life” called it (Rule 11) “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding” (It makes more sense in context.)
First off, sorry about being rather spotty about updates of late. Life, as they say, happens.
I am sitting here with a bruise on my right hip and a rather large swollen lump on my right elbow (as well as various muscle aches) because of a rather bad fall at ice skating lessons yesterday. I actually did a pretty good Judo breakfall. Kept my chin tucked so I didnt hit my head. Arm out to cushion the impact to my body (which is where the elbow injury came in–“pretty good” meant that my arm was turned so the point of the elbow struck directly otherwise it would have been “perfect). Landed turned slightly on my side, so there was plenty of “give” to soak up more impact (thus the hip bruise).
Yeah, it hurts. And if I’d stayed off the ice and didn’t do anything as “silly” as deliberately going out onto a slippery surface with blades strapped to my feet deliberately designed not for traction but to slide I would have been safe.
People these days are entirely too concerned with “being safe”. Now, don’t get me wrong, a reasonable level of safety is a good thing. The problem is some people decide that only “perfect safety” is “a reasonable level”, not just for themselves but for anyone else and, thus, “it’s not safe” is taken as full and complete justification that something should be eliminated at any cost. “If it saves just one…”
The problem, of course, is that you can’t have perfect safety. It doesn’t exist. And anything, absolutely anything you do–or don’t do–has some risk to it. Also, the attempt to remove all risk takes all the living out of life.
Consider an individual who, from a very young age, lived in a sealed chamber. No sharp edges or hard surfaces against which this individual could cut themselves or suffer a bruise, or, heaven forbid, a concussion. Air filtered to remove all potential bacteria, viruses, even allergens. Food carefully pureed so as to avoid even a hint of risk of choking–of exactly the quantity required to maintain the ideal weight of the individual–with the individual carefully monitored and diet adjusted to any changes to the person’s body fat remains at the ideal, healthy level. Soft, indirect lighting (no bright spots) kept to a modest level (to avoid possible eyestrain or other damage to vision) and filtered to avoid UV or other harmful radiation. Multiple redudancy in all the systems providing all that so that they will continue uninterrupted in the face of a failure of some part or parts until repairs can be made.
That individual would be as “safe” as it is humanely possible to make them. Not perfectly safe (some “multiple simultaneous failures” could still happen cutting off light or air or food) but it is as close as we could get. So, the individual would be safe. They would also be driven mad in quite short order from such a sterile (both literally and metaphorically) environment.
People need not just “safety” but stimulus. And more than that, they need challenge. But that entails risk. Even simply meeting another person and talking to them involves the risk of the transmission of airborne illness (never mind any closer contact). And as soon as they step out of that chamber, they get exposed to a host of allergens, germs, and parasites. There is machinery and people that can cause accidents. The very world might strike against them with storms, volcanoes, Earthquakes, floods, landslides, and a host of natural disasters. The skies may rain down meteors or comets. Solar events could wipe out electricity and electronics. The list of risks one faces cannot be eliminated. Some can be mitigated but they cannot be completely eliminated.
And efforts to eliminate one risk will often lead to the increase in others. Eliminate cars and the risk of auto accidents, and you don’t have a network of roads allowing emergency services to reach you quickly in an emergency. “But what, then,” someone may ask, “did people do before cars and roads and auto accidents and air pollution?”
They died, someone. A lot of them died. They died because an ambulance couldn’t reach them in time. They died because “fire fighting” was a group of whoever was handy passing buckets of water from a hand-pumped well to a burning house. They died because the world is a dangerous place and the risks of “ubiquitous automotive travel” were still in the future and, thus, not available to reduce the risks of the then “now”.
You cannot eliminate risk. You can only weigh risks in comparison to other risks.
One risk, however, that often gets neglected in such comparisons is the risk of removing the life from life. People need challenge. They need stimulus. They need to overcome. Not everybody has the same level of need, or find the same challenges providing the stimulus they need, but I feel fairly safe to say that everyone needs it. If they don’t get it, they may not recognize the reason for the ennui and dissatisfaction with life that they feel, but it will be there.
Let’s go back to the injuries I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Yes, if I stayed off the ice, I wouldn’t have them. I could quit and avoid the risk of fewer such future injuries. But what would I lose in doing so?
Well, one thing would be a small amount (really, it’s tiny. You’ll hardly miss it) of self respect. I will go on knowing that I quit, that when things got difficult, I folded like a cheap suit. (Where in the world did that metaphor come from? Do “cheap suits” fold more easily than those of more expensive construction?) Maybe that’s a little thing. And maybe I could salve over the loss with the idea that I was “smart” and did the “sensible thing.” If I do a good enough patch job, I could even end up feeling good about it.
Another thing I’ll lose is the future enjoyment of skating for fun. And that will be the greater loss there because I used to skate and I did enjoy it. And I remember how frustrated I was at the lack of opportunity to skate more–where I lived at the time the only “ice rink” they had was an outdoor basketball court that they flooded over in winter and let freeze when the weather was cold. Yes, it was as bad a venue as you might imagine, but it was all we had so you take what you can get.
In fact, I think that’s a part of my difficulty now. I remember skating for fun when I was younger. Only, now, the learned reflexes that keep me upright on the skates are gone. I have to relearn them. The knack of balance I once learned has to be relearned from scratch. And now I have the greater challenges that I’m simply older. My body is neither as flexible nor as resilient as it was before. and building new reflexes and “knacks” is simply harder at 58 than it was at 18. And yet, I remember being able to do that (without “remembering” in a useful way how) so frustration leads me to pushing harder than I’m ready for now. And sometimes that leads to faster practice. Other times, it leads to falls like yesterday’s and the attendant injuries. (And yesterday I was running on three hour’s sleep for reasons we need not go into here, so that didn’t help.)
But there is one advantage that older me has over younger me. I understand quite well that “this too shall pass.” There is nothing keeping me from reaching my end goal of skating better than I ever did in the years between when I was 18 to 23. (Frankly, I wasn’t all that good–perfectly okay with recreational “round and round” but not much more.) And the difficulty I am having now will make the final success all the sweeter.
Besides, I have it a lot easier than these folk: