COMMENTARY – Pros and cons of playing on thin ice

by Joe McWilliams

Reminiscing about the ‘good old days,’ is a waste of time, as far as I’m concerned. But, oh boy, is it ever tempting.
Everything reminds you of something else, and often enough it’s of some incident from your childhood. Just the other day I was walking home from school ….sorry, that was work I was walking home from!….and saw some kids playing on the ice of a pond.
‘That’s a bit risky,’ I thought. ‘They should know better.’
Then I remembered my own childhood. Fooling around on ice was one of the great pastimes of winter. Fall and spring too, come to think of it. Looking back at the chances we took, it’s a wonder somebody close to me didn’t die an awful death. Just lucky, I guess.
Others haven’t been so fortunate. Pretty much every year you read or hear about a tragic death on a pond, lake or river that was supposed to have thicker ice than it actually did.
Human nature is such that some people will take risks. Some will pay a steep price for it. Others will live fuller, richer lives because of it and along the way bring benefit to their fellow human beings. Or other living things. Other risk takers will hurt themselves and others. Some will end up doing both.
Life is full of choices. One of them is to always play it safe; be as inoffensive as possible, make no waves, ruffle no feathers. There’s actually a lot to be said for that, especially in the context of social relations. We get along a lot better if people don’t go to extremes.
But there are two sides to everything, and if some people didn’t go to extremes we’d never have put a man on the moon. Or kicked the **** out of polio. Or, for that matter, discovered that life without slavery was preferable, just as an example.
Stepping out of the good old comfort zone, in other words. It can be uncomfortable! Scary.
Innovators do it. Artists do it. Visionary leaders do it. Some of them are real jerks and very hard to get along with. Their families often suffer for that grand vision that must be obeyed. It’s deplorable, but out of it can come great things.
I’ve probably used this example before, but Robert Pirsig in his book ‘Leila’ does a nice job of describing the tension between the rule followers and the rule challengers in society. A community where everyone conforms to expectations may be a comfortable one, he says, but it will also be a stagnant one. Members who push against the established ways of thinking and acting may be opposed, or shunned, but without them, necessary change doesn’t happen. Each force is needed as a check on the other, to keep it from going too far. Through that tension, society develops. Or doesn’t, depending on which group or individual has the upper hand.
You could argue that risk-takers are also responsible for all kinds of unnecessary stuff happening. Granted, but that is the world we live in.
You could also argue some of the unnecessary stuff that happens ends up in opinion columns like this one! Not much harm done, though, I hope. Sometimes when you start writing you end up with something quite different than you imagined at the time. Sort of like playing on thin ice, but not as deadly if you fall through.

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