Maybe you saw this one: A botched marriage proposal on the jumbotron at a recent UCLA basketball game. Cameras zoom in on a section of the seats. A UCLA promotions person in a tight T-shirt with microphone in hand stands by, grinning. An earnest young man produces a velvet-covered box with a diamond ring. He mumbles something romantic. He wobbles onto a knee, opening the box for his best girl.
But, but…the expected outcome, the one we’ve seen played out so often that we’ve begun to relegate it to the corny and redundant, is upended: Our surprised and overwhelmed intended bride-to-be hesitated, then stood, put her head down, and ran. She left her (former) man to face the mortifying facts: He put himself out there, laid himself bare, and lost, in public. Now he endures hi-def humiliation not to mention the restocking fee at his jewelers.
Right after thinking how awful it must be for him, the next logical thought among the risk-averse is why’d he do that in the first place?
Why would he take that chance?
Maybe he’s among those unfortunate ones who never learned to read the signals, the word choice, body language, and eye contact of those they pursue. His sweet but bumbling naïveté let him down.
Therefore he felt certain of the outcome. It wasn’t risky in his mind, only showy. “We’ll be on the jumbotron,” he thought with the purest of delusions. “It will be our 15 seconds of fame. I’ll be the envy of my friends! It’ll be fun!”
Or maybe he thought, no matter the outcome, it would be worth it. I mean, you’ve gotta give it to the guy, right? God love him for taking the risk. What would the rest of us do without risk takers? The world would be Twilight Zone bland if populated solely with thrill observers.
What would we do without Extreme Sports, or Dancing with the Stars? We get our kicks gripping the arms of our recliners when the stunt pilot swoops toward the ground. We admire those who actually take risks to get their kicks. We’re dazzled when someone else skis down that slope or rides that bull.
A quick review of my life reveals some risk taking: I was a high school principal, after all. That’s pretty risky. I left the relative safety of the classroom to face the daily prospect of rejection by hundreds of adolescents, not to mention their parents, and the teachers on staff. My daily strolls around campus were made more or less secure based on any unpopular decision I might have rendered.
Of course, the payoffs were tremendous. I knew that going in. I’d already spent many years as a classroom teacher and counselor. Few professions offer the guaranteed rewards of working with young people. Just spending my time with them was so edifying as to offset any ugliness that might have come my way. So maybe it wasn’t that much of a risk. True risk taking requires danger of losing sufficient to counter the possibility of gain.
Maybe our aversion to loss keeps us on the straight and narrow. That’s a good thing. We don’t go around accepting bribes or practicing corrupt business for our own personal gain because of the risks. We elect our representatives and hire bankers for that. We sidestep illegal drug use and reckless sex because of the hazards they bring. Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are our surrogates for that kind of risky business. Better safe than pathetic.
Yet, there’s something vaguely dissatisfying about safety. Constant circumspection becomes claustrophobic. The mild and middle road lulls. A tiny rogue chromosome wants to break free. And 15 items in the 10-item line won’t suffice.
This year, 2012, beckons us past the breakwater and onto the open sea. Maybe just once, we’ll grab the mike at the karaoke bar and belt one out like Ethel Merman. Spike our hair. Buy a convertible or a Mini Cooper…or a convertible Mini Cooper.
Maybe we’ll risk rejection: Greet every person we pass in produce aisle! Try to make every cashier smile. Dance all by ourselves, barefoot, on the front lawn. Climb into a raft and shoot the rapids. Try what scares us. That thing we’ve always wanted to do, but…
Maybe we’ll turn on the cameras. Take the risk. Get onto one knee. Gamble on a happy outcome. Double down.