How Much Intensity? How Much Danger is Wise?

Are we too preoccupied with safety? I’m not a man perched on the razor’s edge, but sometimes I wonder about the question.

Truth is, Britain’s playgrounds are being made less safe – intentionally. The aim is to promote resilience in children. They hope to overcome the oversight of “helicopter parents” and grow some hardiness in the little ones.

After all, if we want them to become farmers or auto mechanics, they need contact with dirt; if surgeons, there will be blood.

I understand the educators’ concern about an antiseptic upbringing. The suburban life of children where I live is doubtless more protected than the one I found within Chicago long ago.

Concrete-paved alleys and empty lots were my playground, not nicely mowed and supervised school yards. Broken glass might be present from garage windows exploding upon impact with a hard-hit ball. The flat-roofed garages voiced a siren song enchantment, leading us to shinny up their drain pipes for balls lofted on top by accident. Telephone polls were part of the narrow field of play, stones pleaded to be thrown, and an occasional garage abutment was an immovable obstacle. One such clobbered me as I tried to escape being tagged in a game of touch football. Much earlier I’d lost part of a front tooth when I tripped and kissed the ground mouth-first. Might have been my first kiss, but not my best one.

Risk is unavoidable short of a straight-jacketed life. Homes and virtual friends are more sanitized than the peopled world of sex and struggle. One finds a dispenser of hand cleanser everywhere one travels, it seems. We watch our heroes, real or imaginary, taking chances on screens and in stadiums. Us? Not so much.

The ones Nietzsche characterized as the future Übermenschen (supermen) would be the bold ones, the strivers and tightrope walkers. They would stretch themselves in a search for fulfillment of all they could be. Danger was an invitation to living, transcendence of self, (and suffering, yes). Play requires this. The fenced in “herd” might be safer, with fewer challenges, but no life survived their enclosure – no dreams and little joy – only obligation, restriction, and cringing. Too much self-consciousness, for sure.

Some of us find safety in well-worn ideas, the ideas shared by our peers. Learning too can be dangerous; thinking for yourself, as well. So we cling to religious orthodoxy or the received wisdom of the tribe. For myself, I’ve grown tired of hearing the same thoughts over again, unless they offer some poetry of expression. I’d rather be stretched to see if I can think in a new way about new matters. Or reject the ideas because they are only “different,” not “better.”

I try to be an honest man for lots of reasons, aware of this cost: “The life of the honest man must be an apostasy and a perpetual desertion.” So said Charles Péguy, who thereby warned us that our honesty would often be displeasing. Frankness is dangerous enough for me most of the time.

For many, making a phone call is a challenge, raising your hand is a risk, asking for something a set-up for disappointment. Therapy, too, represents “the undiscovered country.” Perhaps you don’t want to visit. Where is danger absent? True, the wax wings Icarus wore melted when he got close to the sun, but he did have quite a ride. I guess security can found in a suit of armor, unless the metal gets rusty. Doesn’t all of our psychic armor get rusty?

The perpetual dawn we want is asking the impossible, but searching for it beats a lifetime in a cave. A part of us wants to breathe the air of another place, another planet.

What to do? First know yourself. How much intensity can you take? If you suffer from anxiety, distress will not disappear except by stretching of the rubber band of your soul; albeit little by little.

Some live for the dance, lose themselves in the music of life, and allow tomorrow to come when it comes. Yes, grief is a possibility, but, as Nick Romano (John Derek) says in the movie Knock On Any Door, you then “live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse.” Sounds reckless, but we do need something to enliven us, avoid the slow-death of routine and saying a perpetual “no” to opportunity and adventure. In my estimation, many of us, much of the time, live in an emotional safe zone than permits personal and societal growth. Still, don’t be Nick Romano. Perhaps a recommendation from the stoic philosopher Seneca will appeal more than Nick’s words:

It is truly said … by Curius Dentatus, that he would rather be a dead man than a live one dead; it is the worst of evils to depart from the world of the living before you die.

Intensity can be too much. It doesn’t take long to ruin your life (or your sleep) and good judgement is a precious quality not found at the store. But don’t assume maturity always means being careful. There is wisdom, too, in finding out what you are missing before you miss it.

22 thoughts on “How Much Intensity? How Much Danger is Wise?

  1. I love the video clips! Dr. S, another brilliant post!

    Actuaries would have a field day with the benefits of risk, LOL. Then again, there are different kinds of risks that exact different outcomes. Some risks are engaging, mind-stimulating, and beneficial for health and relationships. For instance, I’ve risked playing Devil’s advocate, just to practice debating with someone else, which caused us to both laugh at the end. In a similar vein, I’ve risked disagreeing with some construct or belief just to find a way to discover something new. These risks are easier for some than others, and are probably more healthy than not taking such risks at all.

    However, there are things that are close to me, like the idea of Pluto being a 9th planet. Some risks that scientists took to discover the “truth” about Pluto wind up affecting other sentimental people like me, who want to keep traditions (without regards for scientific evidence). Why? Because we grew up with memories about Pluto. I related to Pluto being the 9th planet, and I loved drawing Pluto. I personified Pluto, and I became his friend. But now he’s a dwarf. It’s as if he’s been demoted by scientists. But Pluto’s heart remains, as now “evidenced” by the symbolic heart symbol depicted in satellite photos (and thus personified by a lot of like-minded people who equate that symbol with love, forgiveness, and many other things). I felt like Pluto growing up as a kid – being last, being alone, and being forever labeled, mis-labeled, known, ignored, included, excluded, etc. To me, no matter what any scientist finds, Pluto will always be the 9th planet (my favorite planet).

    I suppose, on some small or large scale, that’s how people felt when they discovered that the world was no longer flat; scientific or even political discovery is not something easy to accept at first, and you realize that life and the world would never be the same after that. Risk means discovery and change. Some even dare to risk living past 100, whereas others find it risky to grow old (so the dying young part and having a beautiful corpse might arguably be avoiding the risk of aging, too). Dying young as a hero may seem more appealing than striving to survive, raise a family, deal with aging stigma, deal with new discoveries, deal with the risk of life itself from cumulative exposure and the chance or likelihood you will engage in new experiences and new risks by simply being in a room filled with germs or undertaking changes in society. There are risks involved in our decisions, but there are risks even when we do nothing but live. The risk completely dissipates when you’re dead, though some may argue (on a spiritual level) that even the dead comprise elements and cells and microorganisms that mean something. Living is a risk, and risking death while living is also a risk. We want to survive death, but we also want to survive living through a scary and risky life as well.

    After my bouts with PTSD, my ability to risk even the little things (like meeting with people) diminishes. I’m stuck, and I’m in not such a good place. I just want to cry, play it safe, and do what I can to survive. I just want to heal enough to be able to challenge myself to those risks in the future, but I’m not ready now. It’s like asking an untrained person to do a cartwheel on the balance beam, and then comparing that person to a gymnast. Who is more at risk? I’d say, the person who us untrained, though some would argue that the risk for accidents and injury are the same (both could easily fall and break a leg, for example, but training reduces that risk). In a similar way, risking social interactions when one has been harmed, bullied, humiliated, or triggered (one has a mental illness and related brain sensitivity that others do not) is more challenging than risking social interactions as a well-liked person in society who doesn’t have any brain activity dysfunctions. It’s easier for those with greater training, resources, and minds to judge those from a downward comparison level who are afraid of risks, but it’s also easier for those who have challenges with risk-taking to label some people as “thrill-seekers” or “grandiose” – such as those who love to parachute, sky dive, go on dangerous missions, pursue police or clandestine work, etc. Are they grandiose, or have they not identified some skills they could refine to make it work for some existential purpose? Are they thrill-seeking, or are they merely enjoying themselves in life? I’m sure that there’s a fine line between pathology and healthy risk behaviors, and perhaps that fine line has more to do with ethics than it does mental health issues. But mental health, public safety, and ethics all seem to go together when leaders determine policies and laws. For these reasons, and many others, therapy is a risk for some who are unsure what types of judgments will be made, what more can be discovered about someone’s weaknesses, limitations, mental diseases, or personality when embarking on many tests of engagement by a therapist who can be kind one moment, testy the next, insightful one moment, bitter the next, etc. I’ve been more apt to taking risks in my youth – even life challenging risks – than I am now. I was a different person before PTSD, and now I’m afraid of germs on a fly, as well as social interactions with humans and some odd species in this world (like the praying mantis). I miss being able to take risks, but I’ve been hurt when attempting to try. Sometimes people need social support taking risks, and to explore the risks with unconditional positive regard when doing so. It’s like the “ready, step” commands when working with a fellow Marine to climb the “Stairway to Heaven,” where the leader says, “Ready, step,” and both people take the next step upwards. It’s a risk because you can fall, but you have a buddy with you doing the same thing, so your confidence increases a little. I wish there were “ready-step” buddies for people who have social anxiety or the like; I could sure use one right now.

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    • We do what we can. I’m in no position to judge who risks more, who is braver, who most worthy. In my book, you are quite remarkable just as you are, PP.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S. Honestly, I enjoy watching other talented risk-takers on television, such as the ones who do stunts, drive race cars, do gymnastics, or fight crime (news reports and what not). My days of wanting to be a thrill-seeking risk-taker are over, but I once had those ambitions. I’m too old for that now, and that’s okay. The best part about risks are when you’re doing them with others, or when you’re cheering someone on.

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  2. I concur with Dentatus. I think Ben Franklin said: Many people die at age 25 but are not buried until 75. Same can be true for age 50. I try to say yes to adventure whenever possible. So far, I haven’t been too disappointed.

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    • Thanks for underlining the words of Dentatus, Evelyn. He provides an interesting life and a cautionary tale about adventure and danger: a third century B.C. man about whom there are many stories considered apocryphal. I’ve read that he was the first dentist (Dentatus) as well as the man who invented the sport of “javelin catching.” Supposedly his office was near the first delicatessen (almost everything one did was a “first” back then). Dentatus was always trying to save a buck and remained frustrated over his inability to persuade the deli owner to give him one of his legendary corned beef sandwiches gratis. Finally, the dentist/athlete got the deli proprietor to promise the free meal if he won the next provincial javelin catching competition. Unfortunately, Dentatus took one risk too many and suffered a fatal injury. His last words reportedly were, “Well, I guess there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

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      • With all due respect to your scholarship, Dr. Stein, my sources say that Dentatus’s office was near the first bagel bakery, a food which served as the inspiration for “discus catching”.

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  3. Never mind society, rules or the system, what we should strive for as individuals is finding a healthy, common sense balance between risk and safety. I do agree that too much safety equipment will continue to dummy down individuals. I am opposed to seat belts and air bags, not because they are inherently wrong, but because they give a false sense of security. Add to that insurance. It would have been so easy to use radio and TV to teach people personal responsibility about driving, for example. If you cause an accident, you are permanently banned from driving. Good start. That’s just one example. I experienced another last week. I was working on a volunteer project and using a table saw. Someone saw me and yelled, “Use a push stick, use a push stick!” That in itself could have caused me to lose control of my piece of material but didn’t. I stopped the saw and confronted the screamer. I showed him my two hands, with their five fingers on each. “I’m 71 years old and have operated power tools since I was 15 years old. Notice I still have all the parts of my body. One time I decided to trust the safety rule rather than my common sense. What happened was the push stick slipped and I came very close to having my hand sawed in half. When I use my fingers I am keenly aware of that rotating cutting blade and I know within a centimetre how to push my hand past the “danger” point. Whatever the situation, the trick is to be on the job, not daydreaming or pushing beyond the body or machine’s capability. Paying attention is the best way I know not to have to pay and pay in so many other ways.

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    • You’ve captured my interest, Sha’Tara. How about seat belts for kids and medical insurance? You sound like a wonderfully self-reliant person.

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      • Dr. Stein, I was raised in conditions that forced self reliance early, even upon children. We were expected to be responsible, and were severely held accountable for our actions, or lack thereof. That made me observant, wanting to know how, and why, to be responsible, beyond the immediate consequences. As a teenager I went from a homestead environment to “the city” and I was shocked to realize how much of “the city” was advertising and fancy dress worn for tourism and investors. I began to look at the big picture. I called all advertising “lies” because it was. I looked at “the System” and labelled that “lies” also because it was. Nothing was what it seemed; nothing was done for the reasons advertised. TV was a dummy-them-down entertainment medium designed to amuse the lowest common denominator of “watcher” and to bring all and sundry to that level. The goal: increase consumerism. Gradually I added the whole industry based on safety measures, equipment, laws. Some were necessary because businesses held employee lives cheap and expendable. Soon however the sublime gave way to the ridiculous. A kind of “political correctness” within the work force. Billions could be made by an assortment of greedy corporations just in the “safety” business alone. Insurance, all of it, is a massive scam aided and abetted by all governments. People are told they need insurance and it’s like “the flu shot” and other ever-expanding use of immunization. Scare them into taking it; into using it; into supporting it; into blowing the whistle on anyone who does not kowtow to either religion or scientific pronouncements and what is right for all. We could so easily replace all of that with simple common sense and by focusing on “the other” rather than “the self” in our interactions. There is a real reason behind seat belts, and those horror shows called safety harnesses for kids in cars: get them used to being in restraints. Plus, there’s always tons of money to be made in selling fear.

        Last point: why so concerned about the “safety” of locals when most of the money is spent on military equipment; on weaponry; to be unleashed indiscriminately upon civilian populations “wherever” again because they have resources “we” happen to want for ourselves, and again, because there is so much money to be made in peddling war. Are there air bags to protect against land mines and cluster bombs?

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      • A powerful statement, Sha’Tara. One that sees behind many veils, though I dare say (to make a pun) in some cases throws out the baby with the bathwater. Still, I find it refreshing to read such a cogent expression of your position. Thanks.

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  4. Life is filled with all kinds of risk whether we seek them or not. Nothing tried; nothing gained.

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    • Agreed, Rosaliene.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, RB! I’m wondering, however, are they still ‘risks’ if we are not cognitively aware of them? –On an existential level? Perhaps a retrospective-seeking spiritual level of some sort?? Hmm… Must we be aware of risks for them to be risks, and is a “risk” a verb, a disposition, a state of being, a thing that simply exists? Sorry to get all philosophical, or phenomenological (if I’m using this word correctly). I just like what you said here. 😛

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      • PP, your comment reminds me of a question regarding heroism. There is a character in Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” of operas who has never known fear for even one instant in his life. The question then is, when he takes dangerous action, whether he is courageous. The panel discussion I recall talking about this concluded that he was not courageous — that one needed to overcome fear in order to qualify. I think we’d say something different about risk, it being a more objectively defined condition, even if the person taking the risk was unaware of it

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      • Hmm… interesting point, Dr. S. I have to look up that character, so that I can fully understand the reference. But it’s interesting.
        There are two different people I’d like to juxtapose, or maybe three: (1) the innocent child who loves to explore, climb trees, etc., who has not learned fear but has dared to take “risks” to enjoy the thrills of life in his or her youth, (2) the traumatized child who has learned fear in such horrific ways, and therefore avoids certain risks while heroically taking risks (either by choice or by mere survival), and then the (3) traumatized adult who, with his or her knowledge and life experiences with fear, dances with avoiding and approaching risk in general – for similar purposes as the traumatized child (a, to survive, b, to choose to desensitize) or an alternative (c) to self-sabotage or self-destruct. The absolute risk “outcome” to anything is death of something, or at minimum, embarrassment. Somewhere in-between might be a loss of limb or a loss of reputation of sorts. Living life without the fear of the risk, but all the while taking risks to enjoy all that life has to offer (like the non-traumatized child) seems much happier than the traumatized younger or older person who puts so much effort into taking the same risk, and how such risks truly differ in their minds from those who haven’t experienced the fears affiliated with those same risks. But the risk to all three people – regardless of preceding fear – is the same: the “outcome-risk.” The process involved in deciding to take the risk may differ, but the behavior in taking the risk (if one does in fact take it) is the same or similar. Perhaps on a microscopic level, the level of one’s fear or doubt even may make the risky outcome more likely than those with confidence or without fear/anxiety. I suppose that risk depends on whether we’re looking at the outcome involved with the risky behavior or whether we’re looking solely at the behavior and decision-making process affiliated with that risk. If we’re looking on the decision-making process and whether or not someone is aware or not, perhaps we’d find that the risk is more of an existential thing. Some people fear clowns, but others do not. The risk of meeting a really “bad” clown is still there for all people, but the person who doesn’t fear clowns is nonetheless still taking a risk. The person who fears clowns is not only taking the same risk, but because that person is afraid (whereas the other person is not), the risk is more of a matter of bravery than that of risk. Hmm. Maybe there’s a point to the “courage” in risk, but courage to do something one is afraid of is a risk inside of the actual risk everyone else experiences; perhaps it’s like a double-risk. (Okay, now I’m going off on a tangent trying to think about this thing. I’ll stop.)

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      • I’d add one more variable, PP. And, as a psychology student, you might have already thought of this: much depends on when you take the measurement of outcome. Avoidance of risk, for example, often seems “safer” early than late when you have sustained both a loss of time and opportunity.

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      • True that, Dr. S! Actually, I overlooked the “when you take the measurement of outcome” part, to be honest; I forgot about that or didn’t think of it. Thanks for the reminder! Latent outcomes – I should have known; yup, loss of time and opportunity – that’s the detriment to playing it safe by avoiding risks. Perhaps that’s why the “bucket list” is so popular among older people (like me and my mother, who is 82) these days. Why not start our bucket list now and truly live it up?

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      • As a local restaurant, Maggiano’s Little Italy, says: “Life is short. Eat desert first!”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Joseph Patrick Lori

    BIG JOHN
    – Jimmy Dean-
    1961

    Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive. He stood 6’6″ and weighed 245. – Kinda broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hips, and everybody knew you didn’t give no lip, to Big John.

    Nobody seemed to know where John called home. He just drifted into town and stayed all alone. He didn’t say much- kinda quiet and shy, and if you spoke at all you just said “Hi”, to Big John.

    Some people said he came from New Orleans where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen. With a crushing blow from a huge right hand – sent a Louisiana fellow to the Promised Land, Big John!

    Then came the day at the bottom of that mine when a timber cracked and men started cryin’. Miners were Prayin’ and hearts beat fast and everybody thought that they had breathed their last, ‘cept John!

    Through the smoke and dust of this man-made hell walked a giant of a man that the miners new well. He grabbed a sagging timber and let out with a groan and like a giant oak tree just stood there all alone, Big John!

    With all of his strength he gave a mighty shove, then a miner yelled out, “there’s a light up above”! Twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave, and now there’s only one left down there to save, Big John!

    With jacks and timbers they started back down, then came a rumble from beneath the ground. Smoke and gas belched out of that mine and everybody knew it was the end of the line , for Big John.

    Now, they never re-opened that worthless pit. They just placed a marble stand in front of it. These few words are written on that stand:

    AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS MINE LIES A BIG, BIG MAN.

    BIG JOHN

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article. I believe that children are too wrapped up in a cocoon these days. One little sniffle, and they get given antibiotics. “It’s too dangerous to play outside, so here, watch TV instead.” Yes, it’s dangerous out there, but hasn’t it always been so? Growing up with my dad and stepmom, I never got medication when I was sick… I had to fight it off myself. And I believe that’s why I hardly got sick in the first place, and why even as an adult I can go years without getting so much as a cold. My younger sisters on the other hand, who grew up with my mom (the paranoid type) would get a little cold and be given a handful of medications. They get sick often. Just one example of trying too hard “to protect from danger”.

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  7. Indeed, we are so overusing antibiotics that we are in danger of a superbug epidemic that will be difficult if not impossible to treat by using them. Thanks, Rayne.

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