Life’s risky. But breathing isn’t enough for most people, so we add to the risk. We drive cars, we go on dates, we try a new restaurant. Risk makes life more exciting, more enjoyable, more worthwhile. Risk can also lead to amazing discoveries. Orville Wright points out that “If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.” (link)
He would know. In partnership with his brother Wilbur, the Wright brothers took one of the biggest risks in history. They dared to be bold, to be so different people thought they were crazy. Now, over 100 years ago, Boeing is putting the finishing touches on its 787 Dreamliner, and flying is an accepted part of everyday life.
The Wright brothers didn’t invent the idea of human flight. “The fact that the great scientist believed in flying machines was the one thing that encouraged us to begin our studies,” said Wilbur. (link) But they saw an opportunity and looked beyond the obvious. Many of history’s biggest risks are now accepted as commonplace, but at the time, were seen as ridiculous:
- Exploration: The Vikings, the Chinese, Columbus, de Soto, Magellan…the search for new worlds held huge risk. Google Maps didn’t exist, so navigation relied on stars and luck that ships would hit land before supplies ran out.
- Democracies: Common citizens couldn’t rule themselves, they needed kings, or so royalty thought. Going back to ancient Greece and Rome, countries like the U.S. found precedent for democratic government. Now, in theory anyway, citizens rule their nations.
- Health care: Germs didn’t exist, a knife under the bed cut pain, and bleeding released “ill humors” and cured disease. Thanks to doctors like Pasteur, Lister, and Jenner and medical research, people are living well into there 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
Critics of risk takers still seem to outweigh those willing to make the leap. Josh Porter over on Bokardo highlights the ongoing argument about “amateurs” flooding the civilized world with nonsense. He points out:
What isn’t clear is how much better off we’ll be with so many people learning how to write. Maybe we will have citizen journalists that deliver news faster and more comprehensive than before. Maybe we’ll have better technology analysts who are specialists in their field and not just good generalists from the big newspapers.
Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll have one or two Michelangelos surface who make everyone forget how much kerfuffle was made about the Cult of the Amateur.
Daring to raise your voice is a risk. When I started this blog, I didn’t want to add more “noise” just because I could. So, I took a risk that at least one other person might be interested in what I have to say. I’ve been lucky…it looks like 50 or so are interested.