The state of risk-taking at Middlebury
When’s the last time you took a risk? When’s the last time you did something that made you uncomfortable, the last time a decision you made came out of a place of courage and boldness, of reacting more from your gut than your head? Can you think of the last time you did something without knowing what the result would be, the last time you stood in front of someone or something knowing that this could be your undoing could be the beginning of something beautiful or the beginning of something horrible could be the beginning of something that you couldn’t even imagine? When’s the last time you allowed yourself to be that vulnerable, to be that reckless? I ask these questions because I am of the firm belief that we don’t take enough risks. We being all of the members of this college community: Me, You, the students, the faculty. We don’t take risks and we don’t encourage others to take risks and we’ve somehow managed to create a small world where this risklessness is not only okay, but also celebrated, both inside the classroom and in the social stratosphere.
If you’re anything like me, each new class demands not only the learning of new material but also the learning and adapting of one’s writing style to align with the desires of the new professor. Papers become reiterations, regarglings of things said by the professor in class and even though you might have the inner desire to spit all that garbage out and furiously release your specific and, perhaps, contrary ideals and beliefs on paper, you know that this could potentially result in a lower grade. So do you take the risk or do you conform to the beliefs of the professor and which is the correct decision? Is it worth it to rail against the anti-feminist reading of your Shakespeare professor’s analysis of Taming of the Shrew knowing that he’ll think your argument invalid and unscholarly or do you muddle through and agree that, yes, Petruchio really does have Kate’s best interests in mind and that any sort of distress she goes through is worth it in the end because she winds up with a macho heteronormative soul mate of a husband and that his love and affection is all the reward she deserves for having finally learned how to behave “correctly”? How many of us actually write with honesty and conviction exactly what we feel and believe to be true and how many of us throw away our own beliefs to make it through a class, excusing risk-taking for academic survival?
And what of social survival? If we don’t take risks in the classroom, we certainly don’t take them in social situations. If the constant barrage of emails from senior Psych majors is any indication of what the climate of love is like on this campus, I would say it’s a pretty flawed and broken thing. And where does this come from? Apathy? Lack of action? For me, it seems to be a lack of risk-taking. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we’re all guilty of not latching on to the thousands of small potential risks that float and hover around every conversation, every interaction we have with one another.
We don’t take the risk to ask each other out on dates because we’re nervous that someone will say no and then we get sad and downtrodden and then we complain about dating and then we don’t do anything about it because we’re too busy commiserating with this person over wine and with this person over an episode of Downton Abbey and with ourselves alone at night when we’re deciding whether or not to text someone something that we may or may not instantly regret. The weight of all the great, wonderful, soaring risks we could take sinks into our shoulders and isn’t it just the most exhausting thing in the world to know that something could happen but being utterly unable to take that first little step the first little move in a direction that may or may not be the right one but at least it would be a first move forward?
I say let’s be done with this. I say let’s be done with not telling a stranger you think they’re beautiful because you’re afraid that they might think it’s weird. Who doesn’t want to be called beautiful? I say let’s be done with writing papers for anyone other than ourselves, because we’re smart and we’ve done our homework and if we’re going to write something completely zany and incorrect well then let’s do it in a big and beautiful and loud way. I say let’s be done with being comfortable with not saying things or doing things because we’re worried the risk won’t be worth it. Risks are always worth it because they teach you how to be bold, how to pick up the pieces when you fail, how to be courageous and open to this crazy world.
So take a risk, do something totally different, something that makes you uncomfortable.
You might be surprised at the results.