The crime of living cautiously
Editors who are good at titling articles and books look for attention-grabbing headlines. They want to persuade readers to read on. A favorite book title on my bookshelf comes from poet and friend Luci Shaw: The Crime of Living Cautiously. You don’t even have to open her book before instantly finding yourself examining your own aversion to risk.
Might I be cultivating an insignificant life? Is there too much caution in the way I operate, such that I’m missing out on relationships and experiences? Questions like these spring to mind from a mere five-word book title.
Poet C.G. Hanzlicek writes in one of his poems: “Just once I’d like to be a danger / To something in this world . . . but I’ve lived so long a quiet life / In a world I’ve made small / That even my own mind changes slowly / I’m a danger only to myself.”
We can’t afford to be a danger only to ourselves, which is what may happen if we make the world (and our mind) too small. We need to muster the nerve to explore the wilderness of risk and intuition more easily. I think Eleanor Roosevelt has it about right with her admonition: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
A Florida ninth-grader by the name of Dev Shah won the Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier this summer. This week, while reflecting on what it takes to win a high-profile spelling bee, he noted the risk factor. “Competitive spelling teaches you to be unafraid to take risks. No matter how well we may think we know something, eventually, we all have to take a guess.” Shah leaned into the importance of intuition. “It is impossible to memorize everything. Once I realized that, I changed the way I trained and started focusing on sharpening my intuition. The skill of guessing is everything.”
To guess at anything is a risk, of course; be it the spelling of a word or the exploring of a relationship. Sometimes we win; other times we lose. Dev Shah says that champion spellers are adept at decoding language, making guesses, and managing their emotions on stage. “[But] they also must know how to lose with grace.” Ah, he’s been there before, obviously. So have you and I. Such is the bargain that goes with being open to living incautiously.