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The Danger of Safety First

There is an old adage that goes, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

I love this saying in part because it elegantly violates the “rule”—fabricated by 18th century schoolmarms—about ending a sentence with a preposition. More importantly, however, it speaks to the necessity of risk in the adventure of human life.

When you think about it, there is really no limit to “safety.” No matter what you do, no matter what precautions you take, you could always be a little safer. In fact, we seem to live in a culture that values safety above nearly everything else. It is practically our obsession.

I recently purchased a toaster that came with warnings about the risk of injury and even death associated with the toasting of bread! Perhaps we should all just play it safe and eat our bread raw.

I should stipulate here that I am not at all opposed to safety and reasonable precautions. Putting on a seatbelt when driving a car poses the slightest of impositions while significantly improving your chances of surviving an accident. So buckle up.

However, most of our greatest accomplishments and many of our happiest moments come when we venture some risk.

Ask any young man who has ever asked a young woman to marry him and received a “yes.” In fact I might go so far as to suggest that you cannot really live a meaningful and fulfilling life—a good life in the classical sense—without taking some serious risks.

A missionary leaves home to bring the Gospel to a strange and difficult land. A medical researcher devotes years and years of her life to devise a treatment that may or may not work. An athlete pushes his body to its very limit to go faster or higher or farther than anyone before. Every endeavor worth pursuing comes with some risk.

To avoid risk is to avoid really living.

Of course risk can be scary. If it wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be risk. But we can, indeed we must, push past the fear. Even William Shakespeare took the unfathomable risk of ending sentences with prepositions…often.

Take a risk, and change your life. Leave the safe harbor, and see where the voyage takes you. That is what you were built for.

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