I admit it. I have a fear of heights. It began many years when I almost fell from a precipice on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point. I had been running as best one can through some dense underbrush when I saw what appeared to be an opening ahead. As I broke through, I realized that it wasn’t just an opening – it was drop of more than 50 feet. I managed to grab a hold of limbs reaching out to me on both sides, limbs that saved me, perhaps from death.
It was in those eternal seconds when I was leaning forward, hanging on for dear life, staring at the rocks below and sucking for air, that I realized that I needed to learn to become much more acutely aware of where I am at all times. That has saved me from falling countless times since.
I find it fascinating that so many people like to live their lives and even run their businesses living on the edge. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard all of the explanations, like going for the gusto, or experiencing the next big thrill, or making a lot of money. But, have you ever noticed that, before you make that bungee jump, some person whom you have never met before, hands you a clipboard and a pen and asks you to sign a waiver that releases them from responsibility for the action they are about to help you take? Think about that for minute. You’re the one about to do the dangerous thing, but they are the ones looking for protection!
I’m not here to advise you against taking risks, but there is a huge gap between foolish risks and calculated risk. Experience has proven to me that most people unwilling to count the cost of their actions. Unless you count the cost, you can’t calculate the risk.
I don’t walk close to the edge of cliffs or busy highways, because the cost of the risk is more than I believe that I can afford. There are many accomplishments that can be achieved, if one is willing to pay the price for living on the edge. Climbing Mt. Everest is a loft goal, but it is not without significant risks. Anyone who would consider taking on that challenge must also consider that the risk of failure is greater than the reward of success. The bodies buried beneath the ice and snow are testimony to those who had believed that nothing could stop them.
Our generation has tainted the original meaning of the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” The fact is that that is often very bad advice. I have stood high on mountain tops and savored the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, but I refuse to approach the edge. Stone Mountain rises out of the ground not far from Lithonia, Georgia. I have climbed it several times. But there is a strange phenomenon about that place. There is a point of no return as one walks toward the vertical side of the mountain. The human eye is not able to discern where that point is. For that reason, many, thinking that they were safe, walked too close to the edge and have fallen to their deaths. My point is that often times we are not able to tell where the falling off place is.
That being the case, it seems to be best to try to avoid that place, not to try to see how close you can come to it.
On a much more practical scale, I propose that we count the cost and calculate the risk more carefully when . . .. . . We think about telling a lie . . . We consider stealing from others . . . We want to see how fast this baby can go . . . We contemplate revenge . . . We feel like following the crowd . . . We value power or popularity more than personal integrity . . . We don’t care what others think . . . We don’t think that we will get caught
When you break it down and reason it out, there is no more dangerous place to be than on the edge. The thrills that kill last a lifetime. The problem is that the lifetime is often much shorter or much less enjoyable than it could have been.
I can think of a dozen ways to end this, but I think that Rotary International’s 4-Way Test can help in every situation where we must decide what to think, say, or do. We would all benefit from asking ourselves these four questions before we make any decision:
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and better FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Answering those questions honestly will keep us far enough away from the edge to be safe and secure, if not prosperous and of clear conscience.