Please Do Not Be Careful

Please Do Not Be Careful
Jesse balancing his way across a very long log over the water on the Olympic Peninsula when he was six
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. - Helen Keller

When I originally wrote this, our boys were four and six. Now they are seven and nearly nine. I never have and never will tell either of them to be careful. Rather, I regularly tell them to make good decisions. Further, when the situation does have consequences, I tell them to either be deliberate or move intentionally.

Make Good Decisions

Be careful - this statement makes me cringe. What information about how to effectively do the right thing in the current situation does this convey to a child or any other human being? Be careful is a statement derived from fear. Good decisions are never made based on fear. Fear is an emotional response, and emotional responses do not produce sound decision making. Good decisions are made by recognizing situations with higher stakes, situations where mistakes are costly, and consciously making good decisions in these situations.

High-stakes situations, by their very nature, activate the sympathetic nervous system. Succinctly, when scared, our bodies' fight-or-flight response is activated. There are advantages to this, notably heightened awareness, but making decisions in direct response to the perceived threat is not the best response.

Telling another human to be careful is telling the other person to be scared of the situation and little else. In this situation, the best thing to do is make good decisions.

Be Deliberate - Be Intentional

Cathy, my coach when I was slalom racing, told me, "slow down to speed up." Whitewater slalom racing is a highly technical sport. Successfully navigating your way between roughly 20 pairs of poles suspended above whitewater rapids, and doing this faster than anybody else requires copious quantities of skill and fitness. More often than not, the harder you try, the worse you do. Impetuousness is costly.

When the stakes are high; when mistakes are costly, making good decisions in these situations requires being deliberate and intentional. Being deliberate and intentional in these situations does not directly correlate with moving slowly. A very difficult lesson to learn is slow down to speed up.

Be deliberate and intentional to be more efficient, to be faster. While this lesson, for me, was learned in whitewater slalom racing, it applies to so many other aspects of life. Even now, in my far different life working in software development, being intentional and deliberate in how I do my work enables me to not be sloppy, and achieve increased efficiency over the long haul.

For our boys, this is a lesson I am trying to teach them early, to make good decisions, and when it matters, to be deliberate and intentional. When the stakes are high, and results matter, they will be the better for it.