Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A Personal Look at Risk Taking

just muttering wrote a post today regarding the disappearance of swings from playgrounds. The primary reason for this disappearance is safety concerns.

Reading the post and accompanying link brought back memories. Well, one I can't really remember but my mother has reminded of it many times. It began with a backyard swing set.

Many children believe that if you swing hard enough you can perform a full revolution around the top bar of a swing. I was among that group. However, in my efforts I caused the entire swing, as it was not anchored to the ground, to tip over. The result was internal injuries, surgery and several days in the hospital at the age of 3 years. Kids have short memories.

At about age 6, I watched as one of the girls next door lost control of her bicycle lost control and rode head-on into a telephone pole, banging her head on the pole and damaging her bike. Somehow, I found the lure of this activity irresistible.

A few days later, I rode up the street, turned, came back at full speed and intentionally hit the pole. I flew up and hit the pole with my head. My bike sustained near fatal injuries. The front wheel was severely bent and the front forks bent back at six inches or so. I survived with no more than a prominent knot on my forehead.

Over the years I managed to regularly wreck my bike, once it was damaged beyond repair. While I have hairy legs, my knees were bald until my mid-thirties due to scar tissue. As an adult I bought a good 10 speed and continued to cycle. While I wrecked less often I still did occasionally and I didn't slow down much.

One of my favorite rides was to make the slow climb from Tremont in the Smoky Mountains over Crib Gap and down to Cades Cove and back. On the way back the ride down from Crib Gap was about 7 miles of continuous down hill. It started steep. I would be going so fast that I couldn't pedal fast enough to keep up. The air whistled through the spokes. Fortunately, I never crashed doing this. It probably would have been fatal.

As I got older I took up the more mundane sport of white water kayaking, the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Within a year I was running class IV rapids. I considered, and still do, a "managed" risk. You use your judgment to take only the risks you can manage to survive.

All this was interspersed with the other stuff guys do. Spelunking, jumping off bridges, cliffs, etc., playing sports with less than proper regard for ones body. As kids my friends and I commonly climbed on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River in our neighborhood. We thought that falling in the water wouldn't be that bad. Some how I am still here.

I hope my own children show more restraint. So far they seem to as did most other people I have known. Part of my rational for my activities was that there was almost always someone else who was willing to take the same risk or greater. I was a 90 percenter. I was generally willing to do whatever about 90% of the time. I thought the 100 percenters were crazy. But I think we all were.

Yet I believe that those who are willing to take risks often lead us to new and better futures and brighten our lives. The explorers, the innovators, etc. go where angels fear to tread. Sometimes they find something good there, sometimes they end up dead. Many days I thank the Lord that I didn't cross that fine line.

Terrific essay! Glad to have sparked it. I agree that the explorers, etc. are risk takers and I guess that adds to my uneasiness with banning all things that are somewhat dangerous. Life itself is fatal, after all!
There's growing --still small-- evidence that over-protecting children is as much child abuse as under-protecting children.

I think the evidence will soon become overwhelming.

Children need some level of risk in order the learn to think.

Also, it seems that many people now insist that childhood be without FUN!

DUMB, real dumb.
Good phrasing - about over-protecting being abusive. And almost certainly true. Thanks!
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