Risk is seen by most people as an unwanted, dangerous and unsettling part of life.
I know from personal experience that some level of risk is essential for a rewarding life. Risk is the ingredient that gets the juices flowing, the brain working and the muscles primed for action.
It builds resilience, prepares us to act instinctively the next time similar situations arise.
It’s a contrarian view in our safe, modern, politically correct North America and Europe. Conventional wisdom suggests that we should do everything to reduce or prevent risk. Settle for safe but boring lives.
Risk is what kept our ancestors’ senses sharp enough to survive in a dangerous world, to fight off predators, kill animals larger than themselves for food.
The absence of risk is what makes it difficult for soldiers to adjust to a peaceful life when returning from war.
From my late teens in a Rhodesia under sanctions, through years in the bush as a part-time soldier during the terrorist war to constantly carrying a gun in crime-ridden Johannesburg, I lived with risk, uncertainty and physical danger for most of my life.
After moving back to Zimbabwe, the farm invasions, intimidation, death threats and eventual illegal arrest, interrogation and police cell experience gave me a new understanding of risk.
It’s part of a full life and it’s generally survivable.
Since moving to Canada in 2003, I have often wondered why I view the peacefulness, safety and certainty of daily life here more as a smothering blanket than a safety net.
I recently read the article Why Soldiers miss War by Nolan Peterson in The Daily Signal. I could immediately identify with it. It helped me understand what I have been feeling.
I urge you to read the article, it will give you a greater understanding of the difficulties faced by returning soldiers and new arrivals from dangerous places. It might also provoke you into challenging yourself to try something new.
This paragraph summarised beautifully what I have experienced for the last 12 years:
It’s the inability of normal life to ever match the amplitude of living that you achieved in war. It’s the letdown of survival, and the worry that normal life is just a countdown to a gentle fade-out.
The intrusion of socialist policies by liberal governments into almost all aspects of life in the first world over the previous half century has removed almost all risk from daily living.
Risk-taking by honest law-abiding citizens is legislated against. Dare to use force to protect your life or property and you will be in more trouble than your attacker. Let your children experience some danger climbing a tree or riding a bike without a helmet and you are likely to have them taken away.
In an incident in South Africa, my military training from 25 years earlier let me respond instantly to a potential threat by drawing my gun. The same training that prevented me shooting a man who was not actually attacking me. In other circumstances that instinctive reaction could have saved my life. I wrote about it in this post.
In this crazy topsy-turvy world, criminals often face less risk of severe punishment than their victims.
The article deals with PTSD and I believe quite correctly states that:
Combat veterans aren’t damaged. They are enlightened, complicated souls forced to live life by a set of rules and expectations that can make pursuing true happiness feel like chasing the moon.
And for those who ultimately descend into a darkness from which they cannot save themselves, it was not war that broke them.
It was the peace to which they returned, but never found.
Go to the link above and read the article, it will give you a new understanding of PTSD and Veterans issues. It may also help you understand why you might be dissatisfied with your life.
Don’t take uncalculated risks
I am not encouraging you to rush out and take ridiculous physical or financial risks, not suggesting that you abandon a good job or sell your business so you can hitch hike around the world.
But I agree 100% with the author’s statement about the inability of normal life to ever match the amplitude of living that you achieved in war. Or other periods of extreme danger and adversity.
The downside of living in a safe, comfortable and civilized society in the first world is exactly that. It’s safe comfortable and civilized. It’s bland and mundane, it does not stretch us.
We have to find our own challenges to increase that amplitude of living. I take the risk of making a fool of myself every time I stand up to make a speech, every time I publish a blog post. By learning to play a musical instrument in my sixties.
image by Stuart miles / freedigitalphotos.net