Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review August 14, 2003 / 16 Menachem-Av 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Balancing fear and recklessness | HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. - We have pulled our speed boat into a cove here at Greers Ferry Lake and cut the engine.

The shoreline is not quite a shore at all. It's a steep stone cliff. My wife, our friends and I guess it to be at least 30 feet tall. As we make our estimates, we notice a boy just over halfway up the rock face.

My nerves tighten as I imagine him unable to go higher but afraid to leap out and fall back in the water below. But he finally finds a foothold and pulls himself to the top. At which point another boy begins to work his way up the cliff.

"That's how we lose people," says my friend who lives at this lake for part of the year. "At least one person a year dies doing stuff like that."

The second boy, now two-thirds of the way up, hesitates, looking for an angle, an anchor, something. His friend above tries to guide him. It works, and soon both lads are standing on an outcropped boulder at the top of the cliff, looking down to where friends or family in a boat await them.

One by one, they edge out to the end of that rock and, suddenly, hurl themselves feet-first into the lake. Our hearts stop until each surfaces safely.

There is, I have concluded, a thin divide between healthy challenge and insanity. Those boys imagined that the cliff was the former. For me, several decades older, climbing it would have been the latter. The question is how we gather enough discernment and maturity to tell the difference.

Donate to JWR

This question is not one simply for people taking a weekend off at the lake. Rather, it insinuates itself aggressively into all parts of life. It even insists that the people who set and execute national public policy wrestle with it.

For instance, is it an unavoidable challenge to go to war or is it simply testosterone run amok? When the United States and the Soviet Union went eyeball-to-eyeball 40-plus years ago in Cuba, was it because Nikita Khrushchev lacked the ability to make a reasoned decision and chose, in effect, to scratch his way up and jump off a 30-foot cliff? Is that also why Saddam Hussein barged into Kuwait in 1990 and President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq this year? Or was something else at play?

Maybe we all could learn from Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote this in The Prince: "A man's wisdom is most conspicuous where he is able to distinguish among dangers and make choice of the least."

Our models run to extremes. We can be Hamlet, who struggled to decide even whether to be or not to be. In the same cautious camp is J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot's poetic character who muses about whether he dares even to eat a peach. Or we can be Evel Knievels or extreme sports stars who seem to abandon any sense of caution to risk death.

It's important, as I say, not only for each of us to figure out a balance between fear and recklessness, but also for us to be able to discern where on the continuum the leaders we elect fall.

Do we want people whose first instinct is to fight, to accuse, to spend money on guns over butter? By contrast, what kind of threats will overtake us if we elect leaders who are so fearful of confrontation that they appease evil?

And the risks are not all military, not all about physical violence. Some people lack good judgment when it comes to financial matters, too, preferring to risk everything on the throw of the dice rather than making safer investments that may not get the heart racing. And our divorce courts are testimony, in part, to a widespread failure to analyze risk and reward in relationships.

In our culture, danger lurks everywhere. Just crossing streets is risky. It's hazardous to get in our car and drive to work. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many of us feel more vulnerable to risks over which we seem to have almost no control.

But we cannot let danger paralyze us. If we dread life, we won't understand that each day is a delicious gift of common grace to be inhaled.

As we start the engine and leave the cove, I marinate in the wind - and silently hope our driver doesn't recklessly kill us.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

08/07/03: Flatter-y will get you, uh, to Kansas
07/11/03: A desert saturated with life
07/03/03: America, and its ideals, still enchant
06/18/03: Through a looking glass darkly
06/10/03: Learn how to anticipate while remembering to savor today
05/23/03: Still lost for words at Ground Zero
05/08/03: Mustering robust   — if apathetic   — cheers
04/16/03: Worries of Iraq, illiteracy and the Cubs --- frazzled lives sabotage us
04/09/03: The genome triumph: Though it's laudable, DNA project won't tell life's secrets
03/25/03: In a wounded world, celebrate life's hope
03/20/03: Peace lover ponders the need for war
03/13/03: Science asks us to imagine a world in 11 dimensions
02/27/03: War has long come naturally to humankind
02/22/03: Trying to decipher the vexing French
02/11/03: A worthy crusade for individual worth
01/30/03: Indelible ache of Sept. 11
01/24/03: An issue of great gravity moves forward
01/17/03: Peculiar about being eccentric
01/10/03: Gambling infects with false hope
12/31/02: Quotable and notable in 2002
12/24/02: The faltering war on terrorism
12/11/02: Sky's the limit --- sort of
11/05/02: Thoughtful about uploading
10/29/02: We naively ignore the inevitability of death
10/24/02: Patriotism exceeds nationalism
09/18/02: Misuse of religion is timeless
08/21/02: Where church and state are one How long can Saudi Arabia's puritanical version of Islam survive?
08/13/02: LETTER FROM CAIRO: Meet the Egyptian writer who provided foundation for radical form of Islam
08/08/02: Letter from Riyadh: Moderate Muslims must reassert control over Islam
07/31/02: Journey of discovery starts at Ground Zero
06/07/02: Life rebukes death's power
05/31/02: Reasonable doubts about executions
05/10/02: Business savvy for graduates
05/02/02: Exporting our exclusivity
04/25/02: Life's stories carry messages about values
04/19/02: Our life force's search for fellow life forces
03/27/02: Can corporations behave ethically?
03/19/02: Space Family Robinsons
02/21/02: Lock, stocks and bonds
02/14/02: In space, the dark matters
02/07/02: Train doctors to have caring hands and hearts
01/31/02: A different feel to my life and to my country?
01/24/02: How green is my universe?
01/17/02: The end is near, eventually
01/08/02: Important lessons arrive out of the past
12/19/01: Lost in the cloning debate
12/10/01: It's all in the name: Unraveling the mystery of Osama's whereabouts
11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
11/02/01: Recent, recognized research is a hard nut to crack
10/31/01: Many paradoxes in life
10/25/01: Newly found planets show the cosmos is still strange
10/19/01: Just getting caught up
10/17/01: It was a time for tea and sympathy
10/08/01: What makes an authentic patriot?
10/04/01: It's OK to twist and shout
09/17/01: One precious life among many
09/13/01: Remember who we are
09/11/01: Sometimes all children need is shelter from the storm
09/05/01: Couldn't run or throw, but a hero just the same
08/28/01: Lesson for the scientific faithful: Some theories come with strings attached
08/27/01: When waste in space is a waste of space
08/21/01: In complex world, we lack tools to carve out understanding
08/09/01: Visited while asleep by gang of magical mischief makers
08/03/01: Recognizing the limits of one's capacity
07/27/01: We are more than the sum of our work days
07/12/01: Some stars, like some people, never shine
07/11/01: Our deeply embedded need for order
07/03/01: Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods
06/28/01: Driven to tell the truth about golf and government
06/25/01: When poetry becomes destructive
06/21/01: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a word from deep space
06/14/01: Theory of revolution explains why some things get lost
06/11/01: Shamanic gewgaws
06/06/01: Charity begins at homes with lemonade stands
05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
05/23/01: Cruising along that bumpy highway
05/09/01: If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday
05/07/01: Killing McVeigh will wound us all
05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?


Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved