Tuesday, February 16, 2010
From my Facebook feed, fount of many wonders:
It is fashionable to remark that America “lost its innocence” on September 11th. This is balderdash. Our innocence is too deep and intractable for that. The thing we’ve really lost doesn’t even deserve the name of bravery. We’ve lost the ability to come to grips with the simple fact that life is not a safe proposition—that life will kill us all by and by, regardless. And as a society, we’ve just about lost the sense that until life does kill us, there are values aside from brute longevity that can shape the way we choose to live....
Safety is a fine thing, but as an obsession it rots the soul. If I should live to be 90, and I am called upon to attest to the other nursing-home residents that my life was about something racier than guessing right on the butter-v-margarine conundrum, I will speak of that thunderstorm on Lake Superior. I’ll describe the touch-and-go struggle to keep the boat pointed just enough off the wind to maintain headway, and the jackhammer pounding of a madly luffing mainsail trying to spill a 75-knot gale. I’ll talk about the way we huddled in the cockpit with our eyes rigidly forward because looking aft would mean another lightning-illuminated glimpse of the dinghy we towed, risen completely out of the water and twirling like a propeller on the end of its line.
Pleasant though many of them were, with the cheese and crackers and such, I doubt I’ll have much to say about the hours I spent on Superior with the sails furled, motoring in perfect safety through flat water and dead air.
Read it all.
Judging by at least some of the comments to this post, he's absolutely right.
Well, I agree with Jack Gordon's overall thesis, but I think it's possible he could have picked a better example than his bad day sailing on Superior. In theory, recreational boating is supposed to be fun, though it is inevitable that you have to hunker down through some less fun weather, if you spend enough time out on the water. Now, squalls can crop up with very little warning in the sky, and it is unclear from his story what year his misadventure happened, but NOAA is at least adequate at present in giving boaters decent notice (via VHF) most of the time with respect to approaching storms or squall lines. An indicator of good seamanship is not to place your craft or crew in danger by ignoring the NOAA report (again, we don't know from the story whether there was any such report). There is more than enough risk involved in sailing and boating without taking on undue risk. A wise captain is inherently conservative.
Interesting post and topic. I grew up in a family where our parents gave us a fair amount of freedom and even though my mom was a worrier, they still let us do stuff. When I was 16 they let me go to Israel for the summer to stay with a friend and her family and we passed the summer, largely unsupervised, wandering around the country, even getting lost in the Golan heights and basically having fun. I was impressed with the attitude of the Israeli people who live with danger as a basic fact of life. I wonder if this type of adventure would happen today with so many American parents (echoing comments made in the earlier blog posts) concerned about the peer pressure of allowing such a foray into the unknown. Frankly, I also wonder if our fixation (I'm guilty too) of having kids check in regularly via cell phone doesn't provide a terribly detrimental false sense of security to both kids and parents. Living in NYC, we are not without risk (well, no one is, of course) from the 9/11 tragedy to the daily rampages of take-out delivery guys with no sense of safe driving practice on their bikes.
I always appreciated the AIG ad slogan, "the biggest risk is not taking one." But I guess that also highlights Escort81's comment about taking on "undue risk." I think the best we can do is model a willingness to accept risk.