Safety 3rd

Monday feels like the right day to write this. Monday is a deliberate day, a day to move the week forward in all the obvious and required ways, to meet commitments at a minimum. Monday is a day that sets up the rest of the week. Monday has expectations.

Fuck Monday.

What does that have to do with safety? Well, everything, really. Safety is the idea that you can control outcomes, that there is a single right way to do things. It’s an idea that seeks to convince you both that risks are bad and that they can be, at least substantially, eliminated.

Monday is the safe day. We take the fewest risks on Mondays, as we step into the week. Carefully.

I understand that some of you are anxious people. Your mind goes directly to the worst case scenario. You’re actions are tinged, always, with worry. That’s not who I am, naturally, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry at all or that I don’t have fear. Life isn’t the X-Games or a Mountain Dew commercial. And so much of how we approach things comes from how we were taught to approach them. Anxious people are often the offspring of anxious people. Or we are traumatized. Or we are just chemically inclined toward fear as a result of one of these things or another. People who go through life tentatively, go that way for legitimate reasons, many of which are beyond their control.

But worried is the wrong way to live.

First, you’ve never been safer than you are today. Advancements in equipment, infrastructure, and education have made everything we do as individuals less risky (acknowledging that things like climate change, radioactive waste, plastics pollution, etc. all make us, on a macro level, less safe). Still, somehow, we are more anxious than ever and more obsessed with eliminating risks.

Second, our time here is finite. Worry is not a sport. It is not intrinsically rewarding. I’d wager some very large percentage of our time spent worrying is about things that will never happen.

Third, worry, and the resulting preoccupation with safety, keeps us from doing things that ARE rewarding, that push our boundaries, and offer us the bright vistas of new experience. If I don’t let myself find where my limits are, I can’t expand my limits. If I don’t expand my limits, then I’m living a circumscribed life.

No thanks. Not interested.

Safety 1st is a nice idea, but no one actually behaves that way. Fun is job one. If it’s not fun, who cares if it’s safe? And beyond fun, which is ephemeral, the things we do should be enriching, right? If it’s fun and enriching, then it’s worth taking some risks for,. Not all the risks. Not every risk. But some risks. Many risks. Safety 3rd. That’s its proper place.

The whole idea of Safety 3rd is a recurring joke among my mountain biking friends, a way to cultivate a certain level of stupidity, a certain fuck-it-ness that can produce some hilarious outcomes, occasionally injuries. You certainly don’t get better at mountain biking by eschewing risks. You also have less fun.

There is real science that suggests our peak performances require risk. Through that lack of certainty we attain flow states that let us exceed ourselves. The chemicals that risk produce turnout to be potent and valuable if you’re trying to get rad.

Let me also just say, as much as I love to glorify hell-for-leather stupidity, this isn’t a rant in favor of taking every risk, of being reckless. My point is that our obsession with safety is limiting our lived experience in real ways and damaging our sense of well-being via anxiety and fear of the “wrong” outcome.

Safety 3rd, as a guiding principle, is just meant to reprioritize in favor of living harder. If you don’t think living harder is worth the effort, well, I’m not sure what we’re doing here.

One thought on “Safety 3rd

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  1. As a coach of a teen mountain bike team, we try to instill a sense of risk v. consequence in the kids. As a 58 year old, sometimes I need to work to remember that consequences for me are quite different than they are for the kids. Often, I’ll tell my group ‘just wait for me at the bottom of the hill’ as they all go bombing down the path. My first goal on every ride is don’t get hurt. Possibly that takes away from the rad-ness, but if I work up a good sweat, ride a a few good lines, maybe catch some air, I have fun. My favorite part of mountain biking is now technical climbing.

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