My last two postings have discussed how we need citizens who can dig down deep and come up with the heart, the guts, the tenacity to do the seemingly impossible. We need men and women who won’t quit, who will overcome the obstacles to preserving and improving our way of life.
However there is another important aspect of this, only briefly mentioned in those posts. We need people who can not only deal with adversity but who can intelligently avoid problems. We face plenty of problems no matter what we do. There is no need to create more, either carelessly or deliberately. A good survivor needs wisdom in addition to guts. That is true whether he is climbing a mountain, running a business or family, or making decisions for an entire country.
Joe Simpson’s survival on Siula Grande was due not only to the extreme guts he showed there but also to making wise decisions under extreme pressure. When he was climbing out of that crevasse he could have easily lost concentration and fallen. Every step upward required decisions on where to place his ice axe and the foot of his one good leg. One mistake and he would have been back at the bottom of the crevasse, with more injuries if he was even still alive.
The ability to make such decisions does not come suddenly when needed. Simpson had long practice in making critical decisions every time he climbed a mountain. He had rich experience deciding if it was safer to wait out a storm or try to outrun it and get to safer terrain, if he should risk a quick descent or go more slowly and carefully at the risk that the sun would make the snow unstable. He had faced literally thousands of such questions during his climbing career. Almost all had potentially serious consequences.
People of the caliber of Joe Simpson do not grow in sheltered lives. They grow as they take responsibility for their own lives. That applies not only to world-class mountaineers but to business owners, employees, parents, and those engaged in every other human endeavor. For most it starts in late childhood when they are allowed to make decisions and live with the results of those decisions. It continues through the teen years as their decisions become more substantial. Finally in their adulthood they become mature and fully human, standing on their own two feet. They recognize what they can and cannot change or control and concentrate their energies on what they can do. That is the type of person we need as citizens.
Of course part of the development of such individuals comes from living with the results of their actions. Such people grow in an atmosphere of self-reliance, a place where there are rewards and consequences for how they decide. The nanny state militates against such growth. People who get rescued from all consequences of their bad decisions learn dependence and bad decision-making. They will need and expect that someone else protect them so they will never grow to fully developed human beings. Nor are they likely to become the productive and wise citizens we need.
“Wait a minute Lillywhite,” you say. “You are in search and rescue. You protect people from the consequences of their actions by rescuing them. Why do you do that?”
Actually it is only partly true that we protect people from the consequences of their actions. In wilderness rescues nobody can completely do that. Some subjects of our missions are seriously injured or even die. Sadly, others are found deceased or not found at all. Even those rescued uninjured have usually spent a miserable time before we arrive. The most we can do is provide an imperfect safety net to help avoid the worst consequences of their mistakes or bad luck.
There is a difference between a safety net and a nanny state that takes over people’s lives. The health care “reforms” seem to be aimed at a complete takeover of one aspect of our lives. That will develop dependence and militate against independent thought and good decision-making.
The fact is that most of us are faced with important decisions that we must make under pressure, even in non-emergency situations. Learning to make those decisions wisely will prepare us for more urgent decisions we may face later. This can start quite early; the teen who refuses to give in to peer pressure to cheat in school or to drive dangerously will be better prepared if he later faces the pressure of a wilderness accident or managing a company threatened by poor business conditions. Should he become a successful politician he will be more able to resist pressure from special interests or other politicians.
We need to encourage people to face the consequences of their decisions. That means allowing them to suffer those consequences except in the worst cases.
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