Sometimes risk takers in the outdoor adventure world are summed up by ourselves and others as 'adrenaline junkies who are addicted to danger'. In 1998 Jim Wickwire and Dorothy Bullitt wrote about Jim's life in a treatise entitled "Addicted to Danger". On the surface this is what risk based adventure might look like to the unschooled. It appears as if we intentionally put ourselves in harms' way and bumble through near catastrophe by sheer chance, and sometimes we die. All for the adrenaline surge? Many times we allow our experiences to be so shallow. If this is the case, then there is little real value except for the rush. However, at their best, adventurers who take risks are not addicted to danger but rather its most empowering byproducts. It is the responsibility of risk practitioners (Athletes, guides, authors, and adventure educators) to make risk based adventure more than just another in a long list of consumptive pursuits.
As a society we need to heal our relationship with risk. There are two parts to this idea. It starts with nurturing the profound understanding that there is consequence to everything. We are a risk averse society, and yet to protect someone unnecessarily we dis-empower them. This can have profound repercussions because being mere spectators robs us of the skill sets we need to manage adversity when it arrives. And difficulty will, at some point turn up. I often say that rock climbing has saved my life and it is true. Rock climbing taught me to move through cruxes even though they seem frightening and impossible. This served me when life seemed unbearable with seemingly no way to move forward. I simply made another move into the terrifying unknown and was served with new possibilities.
We are at a time in history where we desperately need people who can assess real risks and know that it is our responsibility to manage them. Globally, we are on our own. There will be no rescue from our current situation with regards to climate change. The risks are real and we need to be creative and diligent in solving the challenges we face. We need people who can lean into trials and solve the seemingly impossible, which is what I know great risk takers become addicted too. This is a skill set worth cultivating.
Secondly, healing our relationship with risk stems from the value we draw from the dangers to which we expose ourselves. We may be danger addicts, but we need to become spiritual warriors. The battles we wage in the grips of our desperate sojourns can be with parts of ourselves that are infantile. We are in fact a society of adolescents. Stalled out in this stage of life because we have embodied the values of the the selfish young adult. Stuck on a journey to "prove ourselves" by conquering the external, yet learning little about or failing to embody our humanity along the way. This is where adventure draws its best value; in its potential teach us how to be compassionate, loving, humble, sensitive, caring, and morally courageous human beings. There is only one way to obtain these kinds of insight. To practice the two things that many adventurers fear most; solitude and stillness.
The continued frontier in risk education is this; develop awareness about the real value to risk for humanity. My friends and I have always said; "I wonder how many lives adventure (risk pursuits) have saved?" We can all think of many. I am not advocating foolishness. I advocate for human development. Anything else is witless. A hundred and ten years ago the philosopher William James made the same plea.