A coward believes he will ever live
If he keep him safe from strife:
But old age leaves him not long in peace
Though spears may spare his life.
So reads the Hávamál (The Words of Odin the High One, Odin).
Living entails risk. It entails confrontation — confrontation with painful truths; with those who are unfairly acting against our interests or oppressing others; and, perhaps most of all, with our own fears, weaknesses, and excuses.
No matter what they may have been in living memory or in recorded history, we are all the heirs of warriors and fighters of the distant past. If our ancestors had not have fought — not just against invading tribes and in wars that they did not choose, but against the elements, hunger, disease, and so on — we would not be here.
Is it any wonder, then, that children still find themselves enrapt by stories of warriors, knights, of fighting dragons, and of bravery? Or why we are drawn to strength and energy, and feel aversion to weakness and obsequiousness.
“You are the one percent,” a Kung fu instructor recently told my class — meaning that only one percent of the population will ever practice a martial art. If so, then ninety-nine percent of the population have relinquished their own safety to others. Yet violent crimes are nearly committed when there is no one around capable of saving the victim.
Modernity fools us into feeling safe. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “risk taker” was first used in 1892. “Risk aversion” appeared half a century later. “Risk management” was first used only in 1963.
Most want to believe that there is an ever-expanding bureaucracy dedicated to protecting not just our physical being but, now, even our feelings. But, despite the skyrises, subways, and Starbucks cafes, we, in our beings, remain in nature — preferring strength to weakness, wanting to succeed, struggling, striving, wanting the best for ourselves, the best mate we can find, and so on.
Living to the full requires risk.
When we push ourselves in the gym, or in martial arts, or even in yoga, our bodies become stronger and more toned. When we slop around, our bodies degenerate, becoming weaker. So too with risk. If we never take risks we make ourselves less adaptable, less able to cope with the massive changes that are, in the end, forced on each of us, whether personal or professional, good or bad.
Risk isn’t recklessness, we should understand. Reckless people have no understanding of who they are, or what they have, and what they’re up against. They get hurt.
Risk requires understanding your capacity, capabilities, skills, what tools and comrades you have and need for the challenge facing you. Risk is gathering your forces, weighing things up, making a decision to move forward, and doing so with your best effort and all your energy.
The world is changing. There is no safety in a shade made by a thousand spears.
In a world where industries and ways of life are dying, risk aversion is a risk.
Gather your forces. Think every day of what you have — what good qualities, what skills, what connections and comrades; think of what you can develop more, what you can learn, what you can improve on. Do it. Put yourself out there. Put your name to what matters. Take risks. Be glorious.