Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stella’s future: Risk all

Do too many of us live in a risk-free world? In response to my post about changing habits, regular reader J gave an emphatic “yes!” and I’m with J all the way. This is not about bungy jumping with frayed ropes or driving blindfold. It’s about the unintended effects of too much caution and too much protection. An example. My home country New Zealand has all but banned the personal use of fireworks. Who remembers the nerve-wracking thrill of holding a firework, its fuse spluttering, and waiting to the last second before throwing it (preferably under someone’s feet) just before it exploded? What made the thrill unforgettable was the sure knowledge of real consequences.

There are now real questions about how young people adjust to the adult world of consequence after risk-controlled childhoods. Rubberised playgrounds, being ferried to every school event, no playing in the street, no rough-housing. And the replacement? Too often adult scheduled activities, screen time and following instructions. This has to take a toll on how a child works out how to take risks and push boundaries, and to learn from the experience.
What happens if we devalue risk in our lives? We start to starve some very important human motivators. Passion, curiosity, courage. Without them innovation is impossible, exploration a waste of energy, and change not worth the effort. That’s a huge risk right there for all of us. Never have we needed the fruits of risk more.

That idea was movingly endorsed in New Zealand recently. Six young people and their teacher were tragically drowned in a flash flood while canyoning which is one of those adrenalin sports New Zealand is famous for. The father of one young man said he hoped the deaths would not prevent other kids from having this kind of experience even though the risks in this case proved to be loaded with tragedy. It was a courageous reminder that risk is part of nature and part of our lives. To remove it risks dulling our existence.

“Dance like there's nobody watching
Love like you'll never get hurt
Sing like there's nobody listening
Live like it's heaven on earth
And speak from the heart to be heard.”

Inspirer William W Purkey wrote those fantastic lines. You see them everywhere attributed to anyone from Mark Twain to Bono. Apparently Purkey decided not to maintain his copyright and put them into the public domain, it’s the same spirit we have followed with Lovemarks

So here’s another wish for my granddaughter Stella’s future: a life of adventure, the freedom to be curious and a passion for the unknown.


Alistair said...

Hi Kevin

How true is this. I am a Kiwi who has lived in PNG and Indonesia for the last 11 years. We left NZ when our kids were 6 and 7, and the adventures, experiences, risks (and accidents and illnesses) are part of their life that blows away the average kid back in NZ. These experiences will help both of our kids cope with an ever changing world, and come out the other end stronger. One is currently back in NZ finishing High School, and one is heading back soon to do University, they both want to get out and see more of this fantastic world we live in, fully prepared to take the good with the bad.

chris said...

Rather beautifully written. Agree with every word 'n I'm sure Stella will shine like her name says she will. Cheers, Chris-Bracket Boys.

paul said...

So true, Kevin. In terms of life lessons for kids, the advantages of taking risks is for them to learn to push their limits and realize that indeed they can. And the flipside is just as important: if you fall you can bounce back (as I read somewhere: “Success is not final and failure is not fatal”) and to carry those essential life lessons from the playground to the workplace, among others. If this overprotection trend continues, we’ll soon be sending our kids to bed at night wearing helmets!

J said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the reference.

Reading this got me thinking about the topic again.

That was a really poignant example about the canoeing accident.

I think one of the other reasons we're so averse to risk is the increasingly litigious nature of our culture.

We are either now 'victim' or 'perpetrator' in all instances...

(Never personally responsible, or willing to put it down to bad luck)

On that basis, surely someone can be blamed or 'sued' for every incident in our lives, down to increasingly daft instances: weight gain from eating too much fast food, scalding yourself on a hot drink, everyday accident in the park / playground... Hurt feelings!

I don't think there is that sense of saying 'oh well, that's life' any more.

It's 'who's to blame?!!'

Which sort of returns me to the original point; you can sympathise with why public bodies, health & safety officials are now so keen and quick to ban everything with an element of risk - they are absolutely terrified of being sued and the resultant waste of public money they would have to 'award' the 'victim'. (Although, of course that does not mean there aren't times these bodies AREN'T at fault)

Perhaps the alternative will mean people signing legal 'waivers' before they commence on activity which could include an element of risk; attending a firework display etc.

Hope not.