our fears our dreamsPerfect security is a mirage. It does not, cannot exist. The greatest risk of all is to chase that illusion. Humans need stimuli, we need challenge, we need goals and obstacles to bring out our best selves. A life without risk is a life without meaning. We must grow to be alive, and growth requires that we encounter the unknown and the unknown involves risk, both emotional and physical.

While it is foolish to attempt to eliminate risk, we can and should manage risk: take reasonable precautions before venturing forth. Fasten your safety belt, don’t drink and drive, wear a helmet, don’t smoke. Exercise, eat healthy, and eat in moderation.

The challenge is that humans have an irrational understanding of risk. We readily accept risks that are known, comfortable, and familiar, or over which we feel a sense of control, and we reject things that are much less risky but with which we feel uncomfortable or that we feel are beyond our control.

How do you feel about an activity where you have a 1 in 8,000 chance of being killed? Annually? And a much greater chance of serious injury, of being maimed?

Those are the yearly odds of being killed in a car accident. Yet we cheerfully accept the risk because it is a known risk, one where we have the illusion of control. At the same time, we vehemently reject nuclear power which has a nigh perfect more than 50-year safety record of zero deaths… a period of time in which close to a million Americans have died in car accidents.

We quail in fear over the specter of terrorism, willingly giving up the freedoms that generations of American soldiers died to protect… and yet we smoke cigarettes and over-eat, each of which annually kills 100 times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. All deaths are tragic; the mother of  someone killed by a drunk driver or by lung cancer or diabetes mourns her child no less.

Just when as individuals we are at our best when we summon up the courage to follow our personal star, so too as a nation we are stronger and better when we turn our backs on fear and choose to define ourselves by our dreams: for America to be a land of liberty and freedom, a bright shining light, a city on the hill, an example for the whole world to aspire.

Closing quotes:

“The greatest risk of all is to take none.”  — General George Patton; 1885–1945

“Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win  By fearing to attempt.”  — William Shakespeare; 1564–1616, “Measure for Measure,” Act 1 Scene 4

“(I)n numerous acts of quiet determination in the face of the anxiety that now infects this society, we perform a service to our country and to each other. Collectively, our attitudes and behavior create the atmosphere we live in and more than any military action, will ultimately determine the outcome of the struggle with terror in which we are now engaged. In the process we might at last find something in ourselves of which we can be truly proud.”  — “And Never Stop Dancing: 30 More True Things You Need to Know Now,” by Gordon Livingston M.D.