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Horatio Spafford’s four little girls lost at sea, with a telegram his wife Elizabeth sent to tell him of the loss.

When we moved to the USA in 2009 our son was enrolled in middle school in the Peninsula School District. He went all the way through High School in the same district in western Washington. The two schools he was part of would regularly send recorded notifications by e-mail and phone, each message ended with the same phrase: “Safety is our first priority.”... Why?

 
Why would safety be a school’s first priority? I understand it needs to be up there in the priority list, but should it be first? If so why? This nation was certainly not built by people who made safety their first priority! This nation was built on the backs of courageous risk takers, the vast majority of whom realized very little reward. Because that’s the way risk works. Granted some of them took foolish risks, but the vast majority had a very healthy understanding of the relationship between risk and reward.
If you spend just a moment thinking about it making safety the first priority will prevent you from doing just about anything; it will certainly prevent you from doing anything significant.
I remember thinking that I wish the school district would change their statement, I want education to be their first priority, including the education that life involves risk and there are essential skills needed in life to be able to weigh risk against potential opportunity. I have never expected the education system to manage risk for me and I certainly do not want them teaching my child that managing personal risk is someone else’s job, particularly someone in the government.

If you spend just a moment thinking about it making safety the first priority will prevent you from doing just about anything; it will certainly prevent you from doing anything significant.
Life has always involved risk, great risk. People die... all of them. People lose limbs, and eyes, and money and relationships, and loved ones; there are stakes, and they are extremely high. We only get one shot at this life, re-spawn back to your last auto-save is a mythical construction and there are precious few do-overs. 
We lose things we cannot replace and so we learn to weigh up risk and make informed, adult decisions. We gain wisdom through risk, we learn to be courageous and cautious, we solve problems and we find new options by risking.
While I’m thinking about loss; learning to lose is such an underrated skill, the worst kinds of gifted people are winners who have never learned how to lose.
 
So when this crisis is over, may I suggest that we don’t go back to normal. Normal has paralyzed us, it has divided us, and it has made us alarmingly easy to manipulate. 
In a twist of typically human irony, our ludicrous attachment to safety as a first priority has lead us into an extremely dangerous situation.
 
The worst kinds of gifted people are winners who have never learned how to lose.
Sadly that has been our national normal, the normal we have recently left behind was to blame people for the regular risks of life, as if technology and democracy have somehow removed risk from America. Let’s please not go back to that normal!
That normal got us to the place where:
  • We are sicker than we have ever been. Stress, Auto-immune diseases, and mental health crises surround us.
  • We have a failed political legislature, but we keep appointing the same impotent leader types who don’t make any changes (the very thing they are hired to do) just in case risk is involved.
  • We are more polarized as a society than we have ever been, which has made us so very vulnerable to misinformation mongers.
Let’s risk again; not stupidly, leaping without looking; but naturally, as humans always have.
Risk is a kind of faith. Horatio Spafford Penned the beautiful hymn “It is Well With My Soul” after losing his livelihood in the Chicago fire and economic downturn of 1873 and consequently losing his four little daughters in a subsequent shipwreck. He made decisions that lead to loss which lead him to other decisions which lead to further loss. That is how life goes sometimes. Spafford was an abolitionist, a believer, a good man, that did not absolve him from risk. Most importantly he was no idealist, and he suffered no delusion of safety. Safety was a priority, but it was not his first! Thank God for national ancestors like him! 
 
If we attempt to sterilize ourselves against disease and risk we end up sterilizing ourselves against life itself; and we make in our children unrealistic expectations which lead them to depression, anxiety, and frustration. 
 
Let’s make a new normal. Let’s interact differently with our technology, with time, with media, with food, with each other. Let’s rebel against the attempt to control us through the baseless fear of loss. Let’s learn to risk again, let’s teach our children about both risk and reward.
Let’s reject polarizing information cycles (which rather conspicuously seem to spike every 4 and 8 years in the US) and with joy and gratitude let’s embrace a reformation of the real rhythms of life.

 

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