Risk it

I was at the beach with my niece a few weeks ago. She’s 12 and she had been at the same beach the year before, during a summer camp.

NYC - Midtown: John Morse Curbside Haiku
wallyg / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

They weren’t allowed to go into the water headfirst, she told me. In fact, the rule was so firmly enforced that they weren’t even allowed to get their hair wet. The camp helpers stood in the sea in a line facing the beach with the water up to about mid-thigh, and no child was allowed past.

We were looking at the beach with the tide about as far out as it could possibly go. Two banks of rocks exposed by the low tide formed a natural lagoon about six inches deep and as calm as a pool table. There was no way there could be any significant waves or under-tow. Even on the wildest day, there would be only puny wavelets.

I remember playing at the same beach as a kid, at the same camp, and the only way we really got our hair wet was by playing crocodiles and crawling in.

But then remember that this is the North Sea and, really, who’d want to stay in it? You jump over the first breaker, scream with cold, splash about a bit, turn blue and come out giggling with your teeth chattering. And that’s in July and August. For about three minutes. Then you spend the rest of the time on the beach, digging holes to bury your friends or jumping off the sand dunes—proper danger.

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I believe we should all take more risks. It appears today that most everyone is ‘risk averse.’ The phrase ‘risk averse’ is risk averse. Risk equals change. No risk equals conservatism and stagnation.

I don’t mean you should drive the wrong way down the motorway with your hands over your eyes, or become an amateur heart surgeon, or dispense with washing your hands after using the toilet.

And I’m not advocating that we all have a more of a devil-may-care attitude about health and safety.

I’m saying: Get the most out of the opportunities you have; do things on a whim, start things—and finish them—just because you feel like it.

I worked for a long time for an International Development charity—at the tender age of about 30—and I told a group of colleagues that our aim should be to work us out of jobs.

One of my venerable older colleagues said: “That’s easy for you to say; you haven’t got a mortgage.”

I pulled on his mustache and replied: “Listen to yourself, Greybeard. Do you really hope that all those people continue to live in poverty just so you can pay off some bills?”

Well, of course, I didn’t do or say that. I didn’t want to take the risk.

I’m proposing Risk Day when people are allowed to take risks. The only caveat is that your risk should not put anyone else at risk, especially one that they don’t want and it can’t be reversed after 24 hours. Therefore, don’t risk inviting your boss for a picnic by a cliff edge and pushing him or her over.

The risk has to be something that would benefit you and those around you, make you feel better about life, and give you a chance to test some of those daft ideas that have been sitting in your sub-conscious since you were eight. And we’d like governments, employers and insurers to turn a blind eye and let us get on with it. Just for one day, as David Bowie would have said, if he’d thought of this idea.

If your response is: ‘That’s easy for you to say, son. You haven’t got a wife/family/mortgage/second home/SUV/Shetland pony/crested Chinese gecko/golf handicap to support,” then just be aware about what you’re making a priority, enjoy it and stop complaining to me just because I’m having a great time.

Personally, I’m off to collect some balsa wood for a Kon Tiki expedition in the local park, and to form an acoustic Celtic/reggae/punk trio, and speak to the woman I’ve adored for ages who only—so far—knows me as a friend.

I’ll be back to normality tomorrow.

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