Raising Risk-Takers

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Christians & Culture, Education

rock climbing / deep water soloing in Mallorca, Spain.

“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life in a great cause.” – Theodore Roosevelt

My wife and I recently had a “discussion” about whether or not our 4-year-old son should wash the dirt off his hands before eating a granola bar. I was pushing for “no wash” in order to promote toughness, grossness, and any other adjective I thought appropriate for describing a young boy. My wife, on the other hand, concerned with the risks of worms and other illnesses, thought my cavalier approach was wrong and stupid (I think she used these exact words). Now she was probably right about this particular “discussion” and I probably should have dropped my case much sooner, but the broader issue in question is one I think worth fighting for – raising risk-takers.

Many parents take the approach of playing it safe when it comes to the kids. No bumps, bruises, blood, stitches, crying, broken bones, illness, emotional stress, etc. unless it absolutely cannot be avoided. Now don’t get me wrong. I do not delight in seeing my children suffer these or any other hardship, and I am sympathetic with parents who avoid trauma at all costs. Indeed, it is foolish and perverted to delight in the suffering and hurt of others. But the “pain-free” approach to life makes an assumption that I believe is false – the assumption that one of man’s highest duties is to experience maximum pleasure and ease in this life. And as I see it, this creates three problems.

First, playing it safe becomes a character trait that, once ingrained, overrides our ability to exhibit other true virtues (e.g. courage, risking our selves for the sake of others, etc.). Habits are formed through repetitious behavior, and the longer a habit is practiced, the more fixed it becomes in our character. Over the course of time, if nurtured more than other moral virtues, “playing it safe” will become a dominant behavior in life. The desire for safety will be stronger than the desires for goodness, courage, love, etc., potentially causing one to avoid good and right actions for the sake of safety and self-preservation.

Second, character is produced through hardship. God has so ordered the world (and for what purpose I am not completely sure) that pain, hardship, and suffering usually precedes that which is truly good and beautiful. As the darkest of night precedes the majesty of sunrise, so too does pain and suffering precede a refined character – character no pleasure can produce. All men will attest that many cherished virtues and accomplishments of life follow on the heels of hard work, pain, and suffering. Therefore, avoiding hardship for the sake of ease and safety is to avoid the building of character, revealing an enslavement to self-preservation to the detriment of moral character.

Third, and finally, we need risk-takers to get things done. Great deeds are accomplished by great people, great risk-takers who cared not for their own life, but lived for another purpose. Consider the founders of the United States, Mother Theresa, Jim Elliot and other missionaries, and those who founded great businesses. But most of all, consider Jesus Christ – the God-man who cared not for his own life and self-preservation, but willingly suffered and died for the love of man and the glory of God.[1] Without risk-takers and those willing to suffer, who will build our businesses? Who will fight for good in the face of evil? Who will start churches in the dangerous parts of the world? Who will defend the weak? Who will risk their lives for the greater good?

Maybe I was a little over the top concerning my son’s dirty hands, but this I know: I want to rid my son of his slavery to self-preservation. I want the shackles of fear broken – freeing him to live a life of honor, courage, and virtue. His concern for safety and self-preservation should serve solely as a means to achieve greater good in the world. He should care for his physical well being insofar as it enhances right living. If he is to do great things for God, community, and fellow man, he must be a slave to righteousness, not self-preservation.

So I challenge individuals and parents to practice hard and painful things. Let’s allow and encourage “controlled” risky behavior in our children, not as an end in itself, but as a mean to an end. Let’s strive to raise up a generation of men and women willing and ready to do the hard things – the right things – for the glory of God and the good of others.

Jordan Tong

[1] It cannot be said that Jesus was actually taking a risk, since risks involve uncertainty. Jesus willingly suffered and laid down his life, but he did not take a risk in the technical sense.

  1. theedgeofoz says:

    Often times as Christian we want to walk a certain path, not rock the boat or make issues of situations. But, as I have said, even Jesus flipped tables at the Temple when he saw it being used as a market instead of the House of God. Taking risks and speaking out is just like flipping tables and if Jesus did it, then we should too!

  2. Kathy Tong says:

    Loved this J

    Kathy Tong, CFO

    Frantz Building Services, Inc.

    1326 West Ninth Street

    Owensboro, KY 42301

    Phone: (270) 685-5383

    Fax: (270) 685-7097


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