“Immanuel Kant defined enlightenment as the human being’s emancipation from ‘self-incurred minority’. Minority is defined as a condition in which one’s understanding is used only under the authority and direction of another, and minority is self-incurred when it is due not to the immaturity or impairment of the understanding, but because it refuses to trust itself and prefers the comfort and security of tutelage to the risks and responsibilities of thinking for oneself” ~ Allen Wood. This quote is about willingness to risk. That is, when not taken to extremes, one of the values of the wise. This blog explores exploration – of the literal and the metaphoric types.
It takes character, courage, and self-awareness to reflect on what one is experiencing, to determine that a change (either mental, spiritual, emotional, or physical/geographic) is required to bring about a greater sense of fulfillment, calm, and flourishing.
Many wonderful quotes reference those values and the virtue of willingness to risk. Wise persons do not rush headlong and heedlessly into the unknown (either physically or metaphorically). Aristotle would note that courage is the midway point between cowardice on the one end, and brashness/heedlessness on the other. If you have courage, you fairly accurately see the panorama and determine that despite your fear and your misgivings, you are going to try to make something happen.
The Dixie Chicks put willingness to risk this way in their novel and inspiring song, “Wide Open Spaces”:
“Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about?
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out?
To find a dream and a life of their own;
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone.” ~ Susan Gibson
It is a willingness to risk something – pain, embarrassment, punishment, financial setback, withdrawal of love, loss, disapproval, disappointment, regret, etc. – that makes it a virtue. It’s akin to the trope “No pain, no gain.” In Homer’s time, which Aristotle studied, a courageous Greek warrior would face the enemy with bravery, not weakness/cowardice – but neither with rage/foolhardiness.
Virtues require a hard stone on which to sharpen themselves. A fantasy existence where there was no pain, challenge, hardship, disappointment, end, or diminution might make for a wonderful dream, but it would leave one’s mentality weak and immature. Use it or lose it, they say.
It takes wisdom to know how much of willingness to risk is ideal (with the extremes being inaction and disaster). Experience and habit can help, and that is lucky because teaching wisdom like one teaches the alphabet or arithmetic is virtually useless. At any rate, success/happiness/flourishing or whatever other end-goal one has in mind is not as simple as always choosing “heads” every time one flips a coin. Like a video game with “three lives”, if you act rash and unhinged, you will soon find your game over.
If you know the song “Into the Great Wide Open”, Tom Petty puts together a neat little ditty that cautions against exploration and willingness to risk turning into a quixotic quest or other absurd eventuality. His last stanza:
Into the great wide open,
Under them skies of blue,
Out in the great wide open,
A rebel without a clue.
I myself am facing a bit of anxiety that is bringing up a desire to strike out and do something novel – seeking fulfillment, freshness, and reward. For me, it involves schooling. Adult education is important to me, and I’m willing to spend a lot of money, time, energy, and heartache to achieve. There are currently a few options open to me, and I am trying to determine how I want my 2019, 2020, and 2021 to be. I feel like more of the same will end in more of the same. However, I also am feeling loss pretty keenly in my social and familial spheres, and as usual, the ongoing decay of American ideals and institutions are ever in the background. So I am liable, possibly, to overreact and err on the side of branching out and being impetuous. So, if you have a drink, I would ask you to raise it to my success! This is real-time, and there are sometimes no “do-overs” in life.
So, as the rock group Rush put it, Get out there and rock/ And roll the bones! That is their reference to rolling the dice. In 1991, lyricist Neil Peart commented, “The song ‘Roll the Bones’ is full of any number of little decisions that I had to make about what I thought, and how best to express them and how to introduce the idea that yes we do have free will and yes we do have choices, and yes our choices do affect the way our fates turn out. But at the same time, there are always these wild cards that are going to come along, sometimes tragically, sometimes triumphantly. The motto comes down to ‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst’.” As one commentator noted, “This song took on new meaning for Neil Peart after two tragedies in 1997: his daughter died in a car accident and his common-law wife was diagnosed with cancer (she died a short time later). Peart questioned why this could happen, and in doing so, revisited the themes in this song, once again concluding that events take place ‘because stuff happens.'” Ω
Here are the song lyrics to “Roll the Bones”. It’s truly fascinating and well-done. It inspires a willingness to risk, for sure!
Here you will find a different take on personal growth, virtue, and flourishing
Keywords: willingness to risk, exploration, being, becoming, passion, pursuit of goals, fulfillment, meaning, striving