Risky Business

The other day I came across the 2002 movie, Panic Room, a thriller that Heather and I watched way back then. It’s a Jodie Foster picture, one in which she and her daughter spend most of the movie in a state of fear in their home’s “safe” room. A very scary movie that got our adrenalin rushing. These days, such safe rooms can be found for sale on the internet and are intended to make the buyer safe from many of life’s threats – tornados, armed home invaders, debt collectors, etc.

Since then, the idea of a safe room has been implemented in most universities around the world. But on the university campuses, the safety is not from physical danger but, to quote from wikipedia, places “intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations”. The University of Sydney, Australia takes this even further and declares “everyone in our community has the right to feel safe”. I confess to finding these intentions a bit disturbing.

Before I talk about why I’m disturbed, I’ll restate that in my intention to bring about A World of Honour, I start with the goal of living in a society founded on the principle of do no harm. This includes not just physical harm to others, but verbal harm as well, the teasing and insulting of others. We’re all too familiar with name-calling based on race, religion, social status, sexual preferences and numerous categories. I am unequivocally against such boorish behaviour. Stop it. Don’t do it. But here is where my disturbance begins.

The world is full of risk. Sadly the world is still full of insulting people. I red-facedly admit to having been one of those people, a boy who would tease and bully his sisters with nasty name-calling. As children, one of our most valuable lessons is taking on the old nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never harm me”. Here the focus is on the target of the taunting, a place where we have all been. Although it’s not an easy lesson to master, it ultimately can leave one with power over being harmed by the cruel and thoughtless words of others. It’s also a power that young children can master. As I see it, a university student is someone who mastered not only the three R’s but also mastered dealing with boorish louts.

Universities in particular are places where one goes to experience conflict and criticism, not of the childish name-calling variety but of ideas and conversations. Political ideas, moral ideas, social ideas are never met by one and all with agreement. Holding an ideal and promoting it to the world is risky business and idealists are and must be risk takers, willing to accept feeling unsafe.

The world is inherently unsafe to all life. Death and danger are around every corner. We can do our best to minimize risks in our life and indeed should. But a right to feel safe? Impossible and undesired.

I’m one of those people that Jerry Seinfeld talked about in his monologue, the one about our fears. From Jerry, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

That was me, but rather than find a safe room to bemoan not feeling safe, I did something about it. I joined Toastmasters and over my many years of membership, mastered my fear. So did millions of others.

None of us have a right to feel anything. But all of us have the right to do something positive about our feelings.

Life is risk. Nothing is guaranteed. The decision to come alive and create a flourishing life will take all the courage we can muster. Asking the love of your life to be your partner forever will take courage. You will not feel safe. Taking on a challenging career will take courage, asking for that promotion or raise. Starting your own business will take courage. Quitting a secure position that you don’t like and finding something else to do with your life will take courage. We’re not supposed to feel safe. Fear is the proper response to such situations. Courage is the proper virtue to draw on.

Free advice is usually worth every penny, and I try never to give it out. But to universities and university students I offer the following. Tear down your safe spaces and replace them with risky rooms. Safety is for the dead. Use your fabulous thinking mind to build a life filled with risk and chance taking.

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