Friday, March 13, 2015

The dull culture of safety

"Two fates may bring about my death. If I remain here, continuing the fight against the Trojans’ city, that means I won’t be going home, but my glory will never die. But if I go back home, my fame will die, although my life will last a long time—death will not end it quickly."
Homer, Iliad IX, translated by Ian Johnston

When I was young, I was romantic, seeking an interesting, exciting, full life. I not only enjoyed Exupery's books but agreed with him that if you become a clerk who does dull routine work and cares just about sick family members and financial problems, you have "forgotten your human quality". To be truly human, one had to meet nature, to test himself, to leave leave aside petty routine and safety concerns.

I admit that, as a child and a young adult, I have fairly often asked for trouble. I have climbed trees and rocks, passed improvised bridges, eaten wild mushrooms, swum dangerously long distances into the sea. It was fun, I enjoyed it, and I didn't become statistics because I was lucky. In fact, this was the culture those days, all were more or less doing the same, and most were lucky and grew unharmed. That was the world described in Gerald Durrell's Corfu trilogy and in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine

Now, the culture has changed. Children don't play unsupervised. Moreover, most of them don't seek extreme experiences. They don't want to climb trees and need much persuation to learn swimming or cycling. I am sometimes annoyed to see that my sons have no adventurous blood in their veins and are most interested in video games and movies. Most of the time, however, I am glad about it. You may say many things against video games, but, unlike the pastimes of our youth, they have never done any physical harm to anyone. You may say that sitting in front of the screen shortens life, but I'd object that even if everybody lives 5-10 years less than they could otherwise, this cannot be compared to the tragedy of a few dying young as a result of adventures.

I acquired a phobia of sudden disasters, the things that "just happen". I wish the life to be as risk-free as possible. Of course I still admire those who take risks for the sake of others, in the name of making a better world, but otherwise I wish the dull culture of safety to prevail. I wish the younger generations to stop taking risks just to feel fully alive. They need not test themselves against the invincible and hostile nature - actually just indifferent, but at the end of the day it is all the same.

Yesterday, I attended the farewell ceremony of someone whom I knew. Just a week ago, he was vibrant, strong, loved, with a bright future in front of him. A sudden disaster struck him in the mountain. He had always been happy to be there and died while doing what he liked most. I know I'd honor him best if I say that he sought the beauty of nature, felt one with it, expressed himself fully by facing the elements and had a short but full life. 

And all of this is true. But I wish he hadn't.


Estranged said...

I suspect that people who lived such a safe life as children grow up to be anxious and depressed adults that bend easily in the face of adversity... and actually bend in front of any problem.

At the same time, I am not sure what is right or wrong anymore.

Estranged said...

I keep thinking about this.

I can definitely say that jumping on the rooftops of the abandoned Opera House in Tomb Raider 2, the videogame, has been a deeper, more meaningful experience for me than running on the rooftop of my school in real life (something I did once).

However, being able to run on this school rooftop coincided with me having a happier life and a unstifled existense, whereas now, when I find such experiences only in videogames, I'm having suicidal thoughts. It's not scientific to see a connection in this, but I still think there is one.

Maya M said...

I know that some of us who didn't have a very safe childhood (including me) grew weak-spirited nevertheless and could face adversity only after taking themselves in both hands.
We must wait and see whether this will be more prevalent in younger generations.
For yourself, would you consider an extreme sport or something of this sort?

Estranged said...

Extreme sports are not safe, either. I like climbing a lot. Climbing, however, may not just get you killed. You may actually kill somebody else on your way down and survive to live with that. I know wonderful climbers who either died or are responsible for someone else's death.

In addition, a psychiatrist explained to me that aging seriously affects the assessment of risk. The older you get, the lower is your tolerance for dangerous activities. I'd never drive a bike on the highway like I did in my teenage years. Same goes for my wife, who is scared of rollerblading in the park, something she enjoyed as a student.

I'm hitting 35 soon and I'm already feeling the effects of lower testosterone - in particular, I don't feel the same joy from proving myself in different challenges, including difficult mental tasks. I no longer consider myself smart, but in addition to that, I don't have the drive to challenge myself anymore. So risk assessment and the drive to challenge yourself is also a problem of biochemistry, and we can't really be rational about it.

Maya M said...

I was thinking of something moderately extreme, such as tourism (not climbing) or ski.
Of course, even they are not safe - but neither are some thoughts :-(. One always has to balance.
The young man I wrote about was snowboarding.