The number of commercials and advertisements that announce their No-Risk policy is astounding. Sometimes pushing the meme, Double your money back if you are completely satisfied or some other such spew of words. We are adverse to risk and open to obtaining something for nothing. Unless you are someone who believes in extreme training and wants pain because the burn not only feels good but is good, then you tend to not want pain as an outcome of exercise. For myself, pain was nature’s way of saying don’t do that anymore and so I would stop. But there is more to risk than simple pain for risk comes in many forms. If one is religious there is always the risk of not going to heaven or going directly, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 dollars, to hell. Personally, I’ve given up the Over The Rainbow theory of heaven, I simply can’t see the benefits of sitting around all day singing Praise Be To God Almighty with a group of people dressed in sheets. It just sounds too boring for my mind. Of course if that what you want, please, take my seat in the choir.
So my theme today is Risk. One is born into this world of risk. In fact, there is a risk that in that process of being born you might die, so even birth has a risk to it as it does for your mother. Back in the old days several hundred years ago the risk for a woman who: one, got pregnant was to suffer complications from that pregnancy through a variety of ills; suffer though the complications of childbirth when the science of medicine was minescule; and three suffer an early death from weaken conditions following several child births. The great composer, J.S. Bach had two wives and seventeen children. His organ had no stops, thus our musical joke for the day. Back was far from being a poor man for he had access to some of the best physicians at the time. But we must note that even as late as the turn of the last century giving birth in a hospital was to open ones self and child to sepsis, an infection that was usually fatal.
Most men were farmers of laborers, very dangerous occupations. But if one could not either be born into such an occupation or avoid the compulsorily military service, then the chances of the risk of being maimed for life or dead from wars was quite elevated. Even being a Duke’s son was not devoid of risk for sickness could strike anyone just as well as war or court intrigue. Even the saintly monks and abbots died from disease and the swords from invading hoards after physical treasure. Since most of the hoards couldn’t read they found the only good in books was for starting fires. The idea of toilet paper was a bit too refined for them. Now, of course, we tend to believe that our living in the world entails far less risk than those good old days. Yet, if one is born into a ghetto one rarely rises to escape and the likelihood that one dies young is great. It has been said that we killed more people in automobile accidents each year than we killed for the total years we were involved in Vietnam. Automobiles are a bit safer now but we still suffer more than 50,000 deaths on the highway each year, and many more are maimed, often for life. Whether one drives one mile of fifty miles to work each day one runs the risk of accident.
Even our houses are full of risk. People fall down stairs, even short flights of one or two steps, and do damage to their lives. We cut, we burn, we do a good many things to ourselves in the privacy of our own homes. And without, well to good old lawnmower claims a few victims every year. Power tools add to the maiming each year. Ladders and house roofs or trees don’t mix well either. And on the job accidents claim their share. Driving a truck as a professional driver puts one in the high risk category for life insurance. Truck drivers are in the ninth deadliest occupation. Commercial fishermen are in first place. Forestry workers, iron workers, and roofers are in the top five spots. Cops are usually in tenth spot and most of their deaths are from traffic accidents, not shootings. It is far more dangerous handing out a traffic ticket that arresting a criminal with a weapon.
The type of risk I have been talking about has been more life and death type, not the ordinary kinds we face from childhood into old age. Our society has become so preoccupied with everyday normal risk that we have taken normal childhood away from out children. In quite a number of communities any child under the age of thirteen walking more than a few houses from his own is considered unsupervised and at severe risk, his parents subject to charges of child neglect. When I was a child under the age of twelve we commonly walked all over the neighborhood which consisted of half a dozen square blocks. We had no sidewalks, either. As a kid I was irritated by the lack of sidewalks because I had a pair of roller skates, the kind you needed the key to tighten them to the soles of your leather shoes. You can’t skate on asphalt pavement, it’s far too rough. We climbed trees, any and every tree we could get up and that would hold us. We played in the local farmer’s fields and had BB-Gun fights. Never once did we put an eye out. We rode our bicycles for miles and never wore helmets unless some kid was lucky enough to have an old army helmet. We play softball at grade school by he time we were in forth grade and didn’t allow the teachers to interfere in our game. We played pick up games of fast hardball and pick up games of tackle football without any equipment. Boys were expected to be a rough and tumble lot, not the bunch of pansies they are today, afraid of getting hurt. Often we learned how to use hand tools on our own. We built clubhouses that our parents use to send tolerate for a week in our yards before that clubhouse found lodging in another. We tried to live The Little Rascals way of life. We saw Our Gang on television and thought how great a life that could be. We were the games we played, our bodies were the control units. And it all came with some risk. I suffered a broken arm at the elbow. I would have been immediately classified by today’s public school system as handicapped and would not be allowed to much of anything without direct adult supervision. I can’t imagine being a child of eight today and overcoming my handicap, we didn’t have physical therapy back then and now all that physical therapy does today is help you accept your handicap, not overcome it. Doing more is considered an unnecessary risk.
Childhood is one thing, secondary school and beyond s another world, less innocent. In elementary school you learn to recognize that other people inhabit this world with you. You learn that playing with others is more fun than playing by yourself. You learn a little something about cooperation, it the teachers don’t cram it down your throat. You learn to play on both your terms and those of your comrades. If you’re lucky, you don’t learn to play nicely as you go through life. Even morons don’t play nicely, only adults with arrested development play nicely. No, secondary school is where, if you are lucky, you will learn something about the value of competition and the opposite sex, unless you have proclivities toward your own sex or don’t seem to know what your sex is or for. My teenage years were filled with the romanticism of love as a way of living. Today love is some modernist abstract ideal not connected with present realities. Teenagers took risks in terms of popularity, in terms of social relationships. Oh, we had the more extreme risks of hot cars, pseudo gangs, and so forth, but the risks we took were for social conventions. We were learning how to fit into the social world of work and adulthood. Ozzie and Harriet showed us how the family worked, or at least how it was thought to work. Lack of confidence was a risk to promotion and advancement. You wouldn’t get that girlfriend and that ideal marriage and family if you didn’t have confidence. True, we were sold a real bill of goods that, for the most part, turned out to be less than advertised. But today’s child has the extreme risk that so much risk has been eliminated for his own good by those experts with PhDs who know so much better.
Today’s youth are told that without a college degree they will never get a good paying job. Yet the unemployment rates for those with new college degrees, including graduate degrees is high, very high. Our education system will not acknowledge that there are two risks associated with college degrees. The first is that you will be well over qualified for what position you obtain and will most likely not use most of what you have learned. The second and darker risk is that you will become a debt slave to the cost of obtaining that degree. There is a third risk, one that is not readily apparent. Our higher university and college systems have dumbed down the course work and degree requirement to the point where that bachelors degree is little better than your average high school diploma. It boggles the mind that we give out PhDs in education that are little more than degrees in how to fill out the state and federal forms required for funding spurious and dubious programs that don’t work and never will.
Risk is in every thing we do, it is a part of our lives, it is something we cannot do without. Yet we are willing to spend exorbitant amount of sums of money to try and rid ourselves of it. We are the age of the sure thing, the next IPO, the next big technology, the next slam dunk app. We look for the shortcuts in life so that we can take the risk out of living. I hate to tell you, there are no shortcuts, you have to deal with the risks in life. And sometimes you face that fact rather abruptly. I was found face down on a sidewalk, bleeding from a cut to my face. They loaded me into an ambulance and took me to the hospital. My aortic heart valve was 95% shut. Imagine being just five percent away from death at the age of 53. I almost died that noon. Then I was told that without an operation they couldn’t guarantee me three more weeks of life, let alone three months. If the year had been 1932 or even 1952 I would have had only a very short time to live. It wasn’t until the early sixties that anyone started doing heart valve replacements. So I was offered a choice, a pig valve that might have to be replace in ten or twenty years or a metal valve that would, in all likelihood, never need to be replaced. I opted for the metal valve as I did not want to go through open heart surgery twice. And let me tell you, that recovery is the worst pain you will ever feel. But there was also a ten percent chance I might not make it through surgery. Not much choice there. We face risks each day and sometimes we have little control over them. Sometimes we just have to take what outcome is dictated by the situation. You see, there was always a chance I could have died during surgery, that cannot be denied. Out of all the open heart surgeries done every year in the U.S., someone always dies. In fact, several someones always die. That is the risk we take trying to stay alive. Eventually death will claim us. That is not a risk but a certainty. No one makes it out of life alive. No way, no how. We learn to take risks because we learn so much more from failure than we do from success. It is in our nature ever since we climbed down from trees and found that fire is warm, fire is good. So it can burn, you learn not to try and touch it. Risk is what makes us human. Risk is that ideal that advances humanity.