One of the amazing facts that comes out of American history is the volunteer group called the Humane Society. Today we think of assistance to animals, but it’s not them. I’m going back to the 1800s, to Massachusetts and the Atlantic sea, which was and still is, a very dangerous sea.
Many boats had been smashed and lives lost. Volunteers got together and built small huts along the shore, and they watched the sea 24-hours-a-day. Whenever a ship went down, the word would go out, and these brave people—ordinary adults—would risk their own lives to save everyone on board. And they had a motto: You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back. When I heard about this, I was absolutely amazed. They were prepared to risk everything, even their lives, to save people on boats—people they had never met.
After a while, the US Coast Guard became involved and took over the task of rescue. And soon, volunteers stopped manning the little huts. They stopped searching the coastlines for ships in danger, and stopped sending out teams to rescue drowning people. And yet something strange happened. This wonderful community-minded and selfless people couldn’t bring themselves to disband.
The lifesaving society still exists today, and they meet up to have meals together. They enjoy each other’s company so much they want to meet, even though their lifesaving activity is no longer needed. I think this is an incredibly moving story—people prepared to risk everything.
Philip Adams said once: “It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.”
The Greatest Hazard In Life Is To Risk Nothing
Taking risks can be a dangerous thing—we naturally shrink back in fear. But it was T. S. Eliot who said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Dale Carnegie used to say: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
The movie Good Will Hunting has been seen by many people—you may have seen it. A marvellous film with Matt Damon playing Will, a young mathematical genius who can’t bring himself to engage with the world. Will works as a cleaner, and on a building site he made some good friends since he was a child. But he didn’t trust many people—he wouldn’t risk any serious new relationship.
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As a child he was viciously abused by his stepfather. He wasn’t going to get too close to anyone. He didn’t want to be hurt again. He gets involved with a girl who asks him to move with her from Boston to California—but he refuses. He’s on probation and has to attend counselling sessions.
Robin Williams plays the role of his counsellor, and asks why he won’t go to California. Will answers: “I can’t risk her turning out to be less than perfect, and then she’ll probably reject me”. His counsellor comes back at him: “Well, that’s a great philosophy Will—that way you can go through your entire life without ever having to really know anybody.”
I came across this poem Risk (by William Arthur Ward):
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love and truly live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
(Read Risking All – Part 2)