Here’s a question for you. Do you think we, as humans are becoming more or less adventurous?
The question came to mind the other day when I was denied the opportunity to teach an Adventure Camp in my mother’s small town. At first they were excited that we were coming and looking forward to offering something new at the local art center, something a little more daring than putting glitter on cardboard. Then they asked us to come up to the center to give them the details of the class. We made it simple, easy and safe. The director nervously said he needed to run it by his boss then called later to say that it was more than they wanted to take on.
Here is what the class entailed.
1. Horizontal rappelling. The key word here being horizontal. We gear up the kids in harnesses, show them how to use the ropes and they simply walk backwards across the grass with the rope tied around a tree. So the most “dangerous” part is walking backwards.
2. Scuba Diving. Again, the idea here is to show the kids cool gear and a new sport. We put the gear on them and they stand in three feet of water in the lake, bend over and put their face in the water to see what it feels like to breathe underwater. Feet on the bottom, practically no deeper than the bathtub.
3. Compass work and geocaching. No clue what the danger might be there.
4. Sailing. The town has a complete sailing program with certified instructors, lifeguards, the works. This part involved taking the kids for a ride on a sailing dinghy.
It made me question the “state of adventure” and contemplate a number of things.
1. Are kids less adventurous today? Has their curiosity been curbed by the digital world? Or are they afraid of the outdoors now? Are they less capable of adventure due to high obesity?
2. Because of the litigious world we live in do we shortchange ourselves and our children in the adventure department because of fear of a lawsuit?
3. As successive generations mature and are less adventurous, does this shift the baseline of what is considered acceptable risk?
Do you allow your children to do adventurous things you used to do as a child? If not why?
The Shifting Baseline of Adventure
Last night we got together with old friends, the boys I used to hang out with as a teenager and their wives. We reminisced about old times and the freedoms we had to adventure. As kids we would take our little sailboats and sail across Lake Erie to the islands between four and eight miles away. We’d beach the boats and swim and sail back late in the afternoon after a perch sandwich from the local pub. Or we would race around Mouse Island 3 miles away. We were all well trained, kept an eagle eye on the weather, understood wind conditions and knew our limitations. Our parents didn’t worry and today at 50 years old we are all still here to tell the tales.
But the sailing club no longer allows the kids to go to the islands and last year a sixteen year old kid came after me in the safety boat telling me I couldn’t go as far as Mouse Island. When the winds kick up over about 10 knots, everyone is sent to shore.
It’s sad for a number of reasons. It’s sad because those adventures are what life is made of. Those are the stories of future memories. It’s sad because it is only through these experiences and mishaps that we learn and become more proficient and indeed safer in our chosen adventure sports. We want to hear children’s excitement in recounting the tale of being chased off the lake by an approaching storm and how they handled it and what they learned from it.
Adventure On the Other Hand
Yet, on the other side of the coin, does it seem that those who DO adventure are more extreme? It’s not that we never pushed limits before, but the limits we are pushing are ever more on the edge.
Now there are twelve year olds sailing around the world and nine year olds climbing Mt. Everest. Extreme adventurists are base jumping and wing suiting and technical scuba divers are reaching 600+ feet on mixed gases.
Today with 24/7 news media spouting their opinions, we are treated to live coverage of events that make your hair stand on end like tight rope walking across Niagara Falls (that was WAY cool by the way). And when the inevitable accidents happen, it’s plastered across cyberspace on YouTube and Twitter and the world gasps.
And parents become ever more fearful.
Has Adventure Become Polarized?
So is adventure becoming more polarized? Do you find yourself at one extreme or the other? Are we either base jumping or afraid to get off the couch? Where do you draw the line and is the line is growing ever closer to home?