“Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world are fools and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion.”–Thornton Wilder
In this highly subjective, personal adventure we call life, we will encounter danger. This can happen unwittingly such as in the case when five-year-old me shoved my finger into an empty lightbulb socket. I learned early on that electricity is a force to be respected. The risk of danger can come about when we consider calculated risks, such as driving on a freeway in fast-moving, heavy traffic. As Wilder observed, the greatest danger is deciding to forego the adventure altogether. To have the goal of a risk-free life is akin to spiritual death. At least that is my opinion.
I do not advocate searching for speeding trains with which to play “chicken”. I’m thinking more of personal challenges or dreams about things we want to try on for size. Along with the decision to take on a life challenge, comes the danger of rushing headlong and being so preoccupied with achievement that we settle for mediocre versions of our original goals. There is much to be said in favor of careful planning and patience. It is best not to publicly reveal the final results too soon. We run the risk of becoming a dillitante and skimming through experiences that should be deep and bring us great, lasting satisfaction.
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”–Nelson Mandela
Today, I risk seeming superficial by utilizing quotations from famous people within the body of this blog post. This is a calculated risk I’m willing to take because there are people who have exhibited more courage than I have in life. This is not self-deprecating–it is a fact that Mandela took huge risks and experienced more oppression, repression, and danger than I can barely imagine. He understood the serious obstacles in front of him then decided to go ahead, anyway. When we remember the actions and speeh of truly great leaders, Mandela’s quote describes leadership in ways that I cannot due to differing first-hand experiences. Regarding danger and safety, Mandela’s words carry a lot of weight. Hence, the minor risk in over-utilizing quotes, seems justified according to my own reckoning. The risk is not profound nor life-threatening, but it is nonetheless a risk of some sort. One aspect to consider is that people like Nelson Mandela had a clear, sharp vision of what was before them, danger and victory alike, yet regardless of dire circumstances went out and met danger on its own ground.
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”–Michelangelo
Here I go again with yet another quote. The one above underlines danger and safety. The message is not some mere platitude nor Internet meme. The warning comes from someone who accomplished great feats and created stunning masterpieces of timeless beauty and grace. He had ambitious ideas for projects. He risked offending his benefactors yet forged ahead anyway. He believed his art was more important than any short-term discomfort. He undertook projects that were risky during those historical times when artistic expression held the risk of offending the powerful Church and monarchial leaders which could, in turn, lead to ruin and banishment. As it turned out, Michelangelo risks turned out for the better.
How do we apply the wisdom of a Mandela or Michelangelo? For starters, we understand that calculated risks are best undertaken with some audacity, seasoned with a pinch of cockiness, plus a fair measure of safety in mind. After all, reckless abandon rarely achieves lasting, worthwhile results. The same works for a successful nation. It is difficult for a country to achieve and maintain great visions if its infrastructure is faulty. When public health and safety are given their fair due, the citizens are well-served and are able to dream and concentrate on creative, constructive ideas then better carry them out. People are more effective and productive when we are healthy and feel genuinely safe.
The subject of danger and safety came to mind as I contemplated tomorrow’s holiday, U.S. Independence Day. The colonists could have remained comfortable and safe by unquestionable compliance with their British corporate and governmental overlords. Instead, they had reached the point of dissatisfaction in their subserivent roles. The choices were theirs. The revolutionaries saw the choices between compliance and a brave new nation. They understood the great dangers of rebelling against the superpower of their times. They could move forward or stagnate as pawns of powerful institutions. They went ahead and took a carefully calculated risk and declared independence from the British Empire. Our democratic republic was the dream on the hill. The colonists risked their personal futures and the viability of the homeland in order to fulfill their goal of national, self-government. So far, their evaluations of danger and safety have turned out pretty well.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes diplomat, lawyer, and politician, Adlai Stevenson. “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed, for our safety, to its security and peace. Preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love we give our fragile craft.”