Dead Risky

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Duncan ponders our attitudes to risk-

What makes life worth living? Part of the answer might be “taking risks”. One of the things I’ve noticed about growing older is that I’m much more aware of danger, and now sometimes shudder at what my younger self got up to.  For example I used to love taking off into the remoter parts of the Scottish Highlands on my own, with a tent on my back and enough food to stay out of touch with anyone for up to a week.  That was in the days before mobile phones, so if I’d had an accident no-one would know where I was.  Irresponsible, you might say. Life-affirming, would be my reply: but if I were to do it now I’d make sure, nonetheless, that I could call for help if I needed to.

The words “Health and Safety” have given rise to a whole lot of stories and urban myths about excessive caution.  My wife remembers when she was at primary school in the 1950s how one icy morning the teacher joined in with the slide that the pupils had made in the playground.  These days, because of the fear of being sued, schoolchildren are much more likely to be forbidden to play outside at all in frosty weather.

It’s obviously important to take sensible measures to protect ourselves from harm, where the risk is real and the consequences of an accident potentially severe.  But that should not mean that we never have fun.  Those who take part in extreme sports know that they could have a fatal accident – but they consider that the sense of being truly alive when “on the edge” makes the risk worth taking.

We don’t all want to go to such lengths, but a fulfilled life is often one which doesn’t put personal security or safety at the very top of the agenda.  Just think how risk-averse most of us would be if we were all immortal – if the only thing that could finish us off was accident or illness.  It would be hard to avoid being excessively cautious, hard not to take every precaution we could think of to keep out of harm’s way.  But even then we might trip over the cat and break our neck.

So that’s another argument for looking our mortality straight in the eye (so far as we can – it’s not easy) and then living adventurously, even riskily.  It’s not a denial of death – it’s trying to live more fully because of our awareness of it.

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