Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Playing safe

I used to think I had a strong instinct for self-preservation, which is why I've resisted all those things that spoil other people's lives - like eating too much, drinking too much, abusing drugs, slipping into a couch potato lifestyle.

But when I look a bit more closely, I have to admit it wasn't self-preservation that steered me away from all these habits but other quite random personal characteristics that aren't so impressive.

Eating too much makes me feel queasy and unwell. Drinking too much totally numbs my brain. Drugs might have claimed me if it wasn't for not knowing where to get them. And I could have been a couch potato if it wasn't for the physical restlessness that stops me sitting for very long.

Although we humans are supposed to have a strong self-preservation instinct, actually I think it's pretty feeble and often overwhelmed by our tendency to act on impulse regardless of the consequences. Especially when we just want to enjoy ourselves.

All the time I see people doing amazingly risky things, blatantly dicing with death and injury, oblivious to self-preservation. Motorists overtaking on blind bends, jaywalking pedestrians, drunks about to totter off station platforms, householders on wobbly ladders. They defy all the dangers, convinced they won't come to any harm. Or not even caring if they come to harm or not.

The honest truth is that often I'm as impulsive and reckless as the next person, and self-preservation is the last thing on my mind. If I've never come to any serious harm in my life, it's really more luck than judgment. I can stop feeling self-righteous because I'm not as canny as I think.

Another smug self-appraisal bites the dust.


  1. I've always been fairly cautious...checking the footing of the ladder, crossing the road when the lights are green at the crossing...but not with words.
    They can run wild - not abusively in the sense of swearing - but with no appreciation for the effects on my career - when I had one - or for continued social acceptance. All it takes is one pompous, self satisfied person doing down someone less advantaged...

  2. Helen: I didn't think about self preservation in the non-physical sense. But you're right, reckless remarks can be just as damaging in terms of jobs, marriages, friendships, social events etc. I must admit I don't challenge those pompous, self-satisfied types as much as I should.

  3. My childhood and young adult environment was nature, the Bush and wild animals. So I was taught to be cautious but quite fearless. I learnt to listen to the slightest noise and regocnize animal foot prints. Until a certain point I loved to take risk (no risk..no fun), but now that I'm married and have two small children my husband and I consider that we are responsible for two other lifes and the risks we take are well calculated.
    Mia More

  4. Mia: Being a parent must make you a lot more cautious. As you say, you're responsible for other lives as well as your own.

    I'm impressed that you have such knowledge of nature and wild animals. My knowledge of wild animals is minimal!

  5. I agree. Always a bad idea to be smug about the way we behave. It's so easy for it to all go wrong in a moment of madness, or inattention. Then we realise our smugness was not justified after all. What I hate most though, are people who are genuinely certain they're right the whole time.

  6. Jenny: Many people don't seem to worry about possible moments of madness or inattention. They just launch into things regardless. And I agree, the unshakably self-righteous are impossible to deal with. Whatever counter-arguments you put to them, they simply don't want to know.

  7. I've never been a risk taker when there is a physical danger aspect. The terror overwhelms me more than the thrill. However, I do enjoy putting myself out there socially and emotionally, as I find the rewards to be worth it.

  8. Bijoux: I'm not very good at putting myself out there, as you know, but yes, if I can manage to do so, it's usually rewarding.

  9. I literally shake when I think of all the chances I took.

  10. I've always been a physical coward and the trait has served me well. :)

  11. www: Well, you survived to tell the tale! I took some extraordinary risks when I was young as well.

    Jean: It seems to me you've always been more interested in your inner life than in physical dare-devilry.

  12. Most of us think we look after ourselves quite well but most of us are really very bad at risk appraisal. Tat's why some are terrified of flying but will quite happily get in a car several times a day

  13. Kylie: Absolutely. We drive around knowing full well that one careless mistake could finish us off, but we're not prepared to give up our cars!

  14. I used to ride bikes like my arse was on fire, pushing the limits of physics wherever possible (though not in built-up areas - I wasn't THAT stupid), but as the years went by and responsibilities grew, I calmed down and no longer seek such thrills. Maybe a bit of 'been there, done that' factor involved there too.
    However much I try to give up drink, I still like the odd glass of wine.
    Used to enjoy the occasional bit of weed but haven't done that in years.
    Now I'm middle-aged and boring, but content.

  15. Both my husband and I still take too many physical risks. We are not daredevils but do things that are risky for people of our age and level of fitness. I almost fell over a cliff not too long ago, and my husband fell down some stairs and cracked a couple of ribs. We never seem to learn.

  16. Hattie: Me too? Wot, taking too many physical risks, heedless of self-preservation? I think there are many oldies who still like to flirt with danger and won't be told to play it safe! Like the walkers who have accidents in the Mourne Mountains (30 miles south of Belfast) and have to be lifted off by the Mountain Rescue helicopter. I walk in the Mournes myself, but so far no calamities!

  17. Dave: Probably a good thing you gave up the high-speed biking. You were lucky not to have any serious accidents! I would also describe myself as (recently) middle-aged, boring and content. But I also like the odd glass of wine. Nothing wrong with that - sure and it aids digestion, eases stress etc.

  18. Considering that I come from a long line of dare devils, fighter pilots, Mount Everest and North Eiger climbers, indeed related to two both in their own way slightly off the trodden path sisters, it's a miracle that none has rubbed off on me. Though do admit to speeding.

    If you and I were caught in the middle of nowhere in one hell of a shit hole - yes, Nick, you'd be safe with me. And that's a fact. I know my way around. However, I have never sought physical "danger" deliberately (other than - see above - speeding). And do agree with Bijoux that to take risks socially, emotionally, are risks well worth taking (within reason). Just don't expect anyone to wipe your brow; wipe it yourself. No, come to think of it - I will wipe yours.


  19. Ursula: I have to admit I speed all the time - but only when I think I'm going at a safe speed for the conditions.

    Good to know I'd be safe with you! For that matter you'd be safe with me. I don't seek out physical danger, I usually keep well away from it. I do take social/emotional risks occasionally, with mixed results. Sometimes a positive response, sometimes incomprehension. But then I suppose the unpredictability is part of the fun.

  20. There is a fair amount of research on "sensation seeking" and its many variants. I typically don't like doing things that could hurt me physically, especially once I had children depending on me. But I definitely have some hedonistic tendencies. And some thrill-seeking, I suppose in relationships. Not thrill-seeking exactly, but a willingness to take risks.

  21. Agent: Taking serious physical risks is not a good idea when you have children to think about. But I think taking risks with relationships is vital if there's to be real honesty and intimacy rather than polite pussy-footing.

  22. I was quite a risk taker in my youth.
    physically that is.
    climbing especially.
    there is a beautiful pine tree taller than a two story building in the woods by the kettle river in northern minnesota with my initials at the top of it.
    now WHY on earth did a 17 year old girl think she had to do that? I did it all on my own.
    no one else was around.
    it was swaying so hard when I reached (almost) the top... that I could barely hang on with my left arm and carve with my right hand.
    had I fallen and broken my neck they wouldn't have known.
    I hadn't told anyone where I was going. proof that the brain has not really developed in teenagers!!!
    however ... people~type risks or crowds and parties and peer pressures never appealed. I was always cautious to the point of fear.
    odd I guess. but true.
    and these days...
    I now like monk's reply.
    I am a physical coward and it is serving me well. LOLOL!

  23. Tammy: Indeed, some teenagers do the craziest things without any thought of the consequences. I can imagine you at the top of that tree proudly carving your initials! Crowds and peer pressure I can deal with, but parties scare me to death. I'm always nervous my mind will go blank, I'll have nothing to say and I'll be standing there like the village idiot.

  24. I have done my share of stupid things in my youth, but since the time my hips gave way, I have had to be circumspect in all my activities. Even just taking a gentle stroll for me is to be on high alert for any kind of danger that may cause me to trip and fall and that can have serious repercussions. Not a very adventurous way to live I can assure you.

  25. Ramana: I'm sorry to hear you have to be so careful about not falling. My 94 year old mum is equally careful. Not very adventurous certainly but it avoids urgent hospital admissions!