Chuck Haggard of Agile/Training and Consulting posted this the other day, with a John A. Shedd quote he learned from Dr. William Aprill: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” It reminds me of something that Melody Lauer/Limatunes also says: “Don’t let your desire to protect your life keep you from living a life worth protecting.”
We spend a lot of time and money doing all the things that make our lives safer from all of the dangers that we might face. We learn self-defense skills and techniques to deter attackers. We buy and carry tools like guns and pepper spray to fight off bad guys. We secure our residences and other places we spend time to protect against home invaders and thieves. We pinch our pennies to have emergency funds for everything from unexpected car repairs to unexpected medical expenses. We stock our freezers and pantries to ensure we will never go hungry.
Taken to the extreme, all of this preparation for problems can make for a very full life, as we devote ourselves to learning and training, and our resources to saving and stocking up, not to mention what it takes to change the circumstances and patterns of our daily lives in order to best avoid potential harm. It can be all-consuming to work to stay safe by staying away from all of the dangerous places and people that would otherwise exist in our worlds.
But what fun is that? Where is the pleasure in wrapping ourselves up in protective cocoons and keeping ourselves from experiencing the things we secretly and not-so-secretly want to do in spite or, or even because of, the risk. There is a rush, an exhilaration that comes with being unwise and getting away with it. Adrenaline junkies chase after it and thrill seekers love it. Even if we aren’t that extreme, we can probably appreciate that moment of life-affirming euphoria that comes from a near-miss.
When too much of our attention is devoted to the task of being safe from every possible danger, we often also deprive ourselves of possible positives. It’s true that seeing your favorite band live means that you could be assaulted or mugged on your way to or from the show, or at the venue itself. It’s also true that there’s no real substitute for enjoying your favorite singer performing right in front of you, with a crowd of fellow fans around you. It’s true that dating strangers you meet on apps could result in rape in the short term or abuse in the long term. It’s also true that you could meet your true love and partner, who completes the empty space in your soul. It’s true that moving out of the comfort of the home you’ve always known might drain your savings to the last penny and leave you with no backup for facing the ordinary pressures of daily life. It’s also true that you might need that leap to find freedom and your true self.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t manage and reduce risk, or that we should take chances when the odds are against us. I’m not saying to throw caution to the winds and, like a hedonist, chase only that which brings you what you hope will make you happy. After all, not being hurt physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually has its own upsides. So does focusing today on the cushion of skills, tools, and resources that will make you more resilient and more able to triumph over future hardships, perhaps those that result from choosing to be a little less safe, to enter slightly less safe situations. Recall the risk offset of last week, where being more able to take on risks allows you to take on more risks safely. Part of building that ability is so that you can use it, to do the things where you might not otherwise be able to outrun the negative possibilities.
Even if we haven’t gotten to the ideal level of skill, though, we simply cannot spend all of our energy worrying about the endgame, and forget that as long as we are working, we are readier than we were to face challenges. We cannot worry about tomorrow’s potential issues, and forget to celebrate today’s potential beauty. And we cannot fight for survival when what we have no want, no need to claw our way back to the life we have built for ourselves.
Safety has an undeniable attraction and it’s important to do what we can to prevent others from imposing their will on us uninvited, from taking what we have worked so hard for. The trick is that if we fail to play, we place ourselves in a cage that yes, protects us from harm, but also protects us from the joy that comes from conquering the uncertain and the unknown. And that, my friends, is the point of living.