“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
— Helen Keller
Security and risk are two sides of the same illusionary coin. They don’t exist, except in the minds of individuals. Perhaps, no one other than Helen Keller understood this better. Keller, who became deaf and blind at the tender age of 19 months, went on to become a world-renowned speaker and author. In the above citation, she seems to be speaking from her experience as a disabled person, who overcame enormous challenges in life.
Keller is saying that life does not come with a warranty card. It’s impossible to live your life without taking risks. There are a million variables that can, and do, affect our lives every moment. For instance, each time we step out of our homes, we risk being run over by a car, or truck. When we board an aircraft, or travel by train, we are exposing ourselves to the risk of a crash, or an accident. Statistically speaking, the risk is minimal in these cases. But, exist it does. This is what Keller is pointing out: that true security is a myth.
Robert Schuller once asked a pertinent question: “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail. If we’re willing to take responsibility for our actions, and face the consequences, then we can stop “avoiding danger”, which – according to Keller – is not any safer than taking the plunge into unfamiliar territory.
We can, of course, avoid dangers and live “safe” lives. Those of us, who do not take risks, are consciously choosing to live ordinary lives. We don’t want to face any discomfort, and in so doing, we are willing to forego some of life’s greatest gifts.
Think of a pet bird in a cage that feels perfectly safe inside. Even if it had an option of flying away, it may still choose confinement over freedom; because the latter brings with it uncertainty and risk. Will it be able to fetch food? Will it survive the weather? Will it be able to escape from predatory birds? These questions can keep the bird inside the cage. day-after-day. But, would you call this living? This is what Keller means when she says, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”.
Let’s take relationships, for instance. The risk of challenges in partnerships keeps so many away from commitment – more so, if they have experienced a “failed” relationship in the past. The problem lies with judgmental labels. Once we realise that we do not ever fail – we only produce outcomes— we are able to view everything we do from a healthier perspective. The risk of commitment also comes along with the possible reward of everlasting companionship, which each of us craves for and cherishes. But, if we’re the cagey-type safety-minded bird, then, we are losing the opportunity of living life to the fullest.
Job security is another parable. Security in a job does not come from the employer. It comes from our own competence and performance, from deep within. Employers allow us to keep our jobs, as long as we perform competently. In fact, in spite of performing brilliantly, business constraints may, and often do, force employers to lay people off.
To sum up, Keller seems to be saying that the biggest risk in life is not taking risks. Because, then, we do not live – we merely exist.
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