Thursday, March 18, 2010

Risky Business

Photo by Jeff Hallam

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer."

— Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

It's just so dense. The idea that everything is risky, that there's no such thing as no risk. An action that, by all reasonable standards, is considered safe, is risky if for nothing more than missing out on the opportunities available by not choosing the alternative. You can maintain $10,000 in a savings account earning 1% interest instead of investing in the stock market, but you risk missing out on millions. It's "safe" to keep your day job, but you risk forfeiting your dreams.

"Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer." The strength to suffer...a paradox echoed every day in every way. One of man's greatest attributes is the ability to adapt. Yet, it's often the undercurrent of a subpar life. I mean, it's fabulous to make lemons out of lemonade, to finesse the best of less than ideal situations. But the risk of that strength to suffer is loss of ambition. Loss of stride, pride.

I'm all for looking at the glass as half full. But I have to be careful that while maintaining a positive attitude I don't lose sight of reality. Harriet Tubman famously said, "If I could have convinced more people that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more."

Many of the slaves that didn't try to escape were afraid of the consequences of getting caught, and for good reason. But how many scores of slaves didn't try because they had OD'd on silver linings and half-full glasses, so much so that plantation life didn't seem all that bad?

We work for bosses that don't respect us for decades. We live in neighborhoods riddled with drugs and poverty for generations. We terrorize our bodies with unnecessary weight and unhealthy foods for a lifetime. We dive into debt, credit card after credit card, loan after loan, to the point that our creditors have their own ringtones.

Strength to suffer.

I've got to live in a way that is more offense than defense, more action than reaction, more of what I desire and less of what I'm simply tolerating. To do otherwise is a risk I don't want to take.