Conversation Topics: School of Padded Blows
Preventing needless injury makes a lot of sense. But are we actually causing greater harm to our race each time we smooth out another bump to make this a safer world?

First, let's acknowledge that the idea of protecting ourselves and our loved ones is not a current fad. It's instinctual, and it's been going on since before the days our ancestors first sought shelter in a cave. We associate hurt with pain, because pain is our body's way of warning us that it's being hurt, and being hurt is a bad thing. Hence, our instinct is to avoid and prevent hurt.

Look around you at what protection we've developed since the cave. There are raincoats and umbrellas to keep you dry when you can go out in the rain, sunglasses to protect your eyes from too many hours of bright sunlight, and sunscreen to protect your skin from the aging and cancerous effects of the sun.

Furthermore, lest we think that we can protect ourselves, society pushes us to even higher standards through threat of legal action. We put up railings and warning signs to tell people that falling off cliffs could hurt and that wet really does make things slippery. And because we don't know for what purpose people will use our products, we slap warning stickers on them -- with most warnings written as if we really did just walk out of that cave. Worrying about little Billy swallowing the whole bottle of aspirin that you left in his crib? No worry for you, as the manufacturer has already worried about it for you and put a child-resistant cap on the bottle.

All of these things are designed to put a barrier between us and the dangers around us.

Even movies and TV, which open up to us so many new experiences that we would never have had without them, remove us from the danger (and the consequences) of what we watch. After all, when was the last time you attending the wake or had to care for the survivors of a television character that died?

By removing these dangers, we're blunting our senses. Feel like shooting someone? No problem, just start-up that PC game and fire away. Worst that can happen to you is that you'll get a sore finger and have to go back to the "first level"... at least until someone events a more ergonomic input device and a skill-level "friendlier" game. There are no other consequences. We're so insulated and so isolated from our world that it's hard to remember the reality: if I insult someone, their feelings are hurt; if I cut myself, I bled; if I die, I am no more -- we can't simply re-boot life when it crashes.

And yet, with all this shielding to protect ourselves, we try harder to reach beyond our shields to touch the real world. "Extreme" this and "super-sized" that are symptoms of the need to push beyond. So even though society is reducing the dangers, we do more dangerous things. Somewhere inside us is a primordial instinct that bursts out with a natural thrill as the adrenaline starts to flow. This urge use to save us from danger, now it draws us toward it. Today, commonsense says to use a parachute when you jump from a plane. Commonsense use to (and should say) don't jump from the plane in the first place. And you can bet that as soon as we can figure out a way to pad the ground, we'll jump without the chutes. Because we just love a good thrill.

So what is the solution? Commonsense use to be taught at the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," but its getting harder to find a good knock with all this padding. As a result, we are in a vicious cycle of having less and expecting less common sense. Maybe it's time we think about forgetting some of the precautions and going back to teaching commonsense. Certainly, there is room for a step back in that direction.

Updated September 30, 2003 - go to our home or life advice page