Have you ever noticed? If you try to walk on a line painted on the ground and that’s about a foot wide, you can do it right away. In fact, everybody who doesn’t suffer from any particular illness affecting their walking and balancing can do it. You only have to pay a bit of attention, and that’s all.
But the moment you have to walk on top of a wall that is just as wide as the painted line but ten meter high, things change remarkably.
All of a sudden, a task everybody considered so easy as to verge on triviality, becomes a difficult feat. Indeed, a feat so difficult that a large part of the people would refuse to take it up if not forced to do so.
Is danger always so dangerous?
Per se the task is the same — you have to walk from point A to point B following a well-defined route. But in this second scenario there’s an important contextual factor that has made its appearance: the ten meter drop. That’s to say the immediate danger of failure — of falling to one own’s death.
I believe this simple example is telling of the way we reason our way through life in general. In fact, when risks soar beyond a certain level, only a small and extremely motivated part of the people will be willing to take up a challenge.
However, due to their focus and preparation these people will manage to overcome many obstacles, and in general will have a remarkable success rate — both in terms of actual goals and personal growth.
These people are researchers, explorers, athletes, thinkers. They are those who look danger/failure in the eye, shrug their shoulders, and then set to do their thing all the same.
When history proves them right, they are revered and celebrated. When history proves them wrong, they are forgotten and pushed aside — which is shameful for so many reasons I should devote a blog only to list them all.
In general, we consider outliers these people who don’t balk in front of a difficult challenge, people so out of the ordinary we think they have little to do with us and our existence.
But this isn’t the case. Because in real life, irrespective of our being aware of it or not, we are always walking on some kind of painted line. And even if we can step off such lines and walk away without immediate and devastating injury it doesn’t mean these changes are scot-free.
In fact, I would say that in such cases it’s precisely the apparent freedom and safety our society provides that is most dangerous. Because we keep trying things out, we keep dabbling with a bit of everything, and if we’re not forced by circumstances, we rarely settle for something and do it as if our dear life depended on it.
In short, we want to keep open as many doors as we can, just in case. But we fail to appreciate the cost they represent — those pesky perennially open doors.
So for the next year, the one after this glorious 2020 which has showed us all the difference between complex societies and modern ones (I mean, there are no modern societies) I’m not going to make any new propositions. Instead, I’ll be looking for doors to close.