Virtually every day for the last ten years – barring overextended itineraries(hers) or medical emergencies(mine) – I log into Skype about 6:00 AM EST and place a call to my dearest friend on the planet – Joy Loverde. Author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. This successful author, mother and eldercare advocate is not only my friend; but over the last decade our friendship has blossomed, like a special flower, rooted in mud and pond scum, to rise through murky waters and become a Lotus.
A couple of weeks ago, she configured her smart phone to stream video and treated me to a visit at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo – just two blocks from her home. I enjoyed the virtual tour immensely, especially in the moments that this fearless woman spent with the zebra, lion and tiger. As we approached the protective barrier for each animal, they seemed to stop what they were doing and focus completely on Joy. What I’ve learned from this amazing woman is the topic for another post.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to David Goff’s Salient Risk.
A report from the Slow Lane
There is only one way I know that takes my worries and anxieties and turns them into growth and maturation. This is a move that, in my mind , is equivalent to turning a pile of straw into gold. This, however, is not a DavD-tale task, it is a real-life escape into freedom. When it comes to living fully, balls out, gut-extending, risking, then I think that one has to make an intentional effort. And when one does, by actually going to bat for oneself, then one has to use their head and come up with something I call “salient risk.”
A salient risk is one that is personally cooked-up for the express purpose of putting one’s sense of self on the line. The personal part is where the salience lives. This is the kind of risk-taking that can only come from the inside out. That makes it a rare form of risk, which many people have a hard time conceiving of. It takes self-knowledge. Real self-knowledge, not the kind made-up to make oneself feel good, but the kind that unfailingly haunts one, with more than one wants to know about one’s self. This kind of self-knowing, the kind that isn’t based on certainty, resides in our self-doubts.
It is not-knowing, feeling greatly uncertain, being dubious even, about one’s own character, which makes this form of risking so powerful, and so on-target. There is a hair-raising, harrowing quality, that is extremely germane, central even (to one’s fears), that empowers this kind of risk-taking. It is like a ropes course, only without the safety harnesses and nets. People go to this extreme, in themselves, because they love the idea of being themselves. And one cannot find out who one is without salient risks.
This is the self-administered test, the one where there is really doubt about the outcome. Strangely, the benefits that come from this kind of risk-taking, are exactly proportional to the amount of uncertainty aroused by it. This is both the confidence-builder, and the test for hubris. The good news is that one gets a better, more accurate picture of reality no matter what. Simply risking everything, throwing one’s self into the grave, has the paradoxical impact, of strengthening the self. So, one of the best formula for growing the self is putting it to the test through salient risk-taking.
I first came up with the idea of salient risk when I was learning about ways of undermining chronic anxiety. You know, the “what-if” stuff that keeps one anticipating some disastrous future. I found that a burst of acute anxiety, anxiety grounded in the reality of the moment, had an effect upon one’s ability to tolerate chronic anxiety, so it didn’t tend to run the show. The effect is, that by weathering the storm, the spike of real in-the-moment acute (higher than usual) anxiety, one develops one’s tolerance for anxiety, and this feels like being less anxious. There isn’t really any important change in one’s level of chronic anxiety, but there is a new level of tolerance of anxiety, and this translates subjectively into a greater confidence.
I didn’t know it yet, but I had stumbled into a discovery of the emotional immune system. It turns out, that each of us is equipped, by Nature’s providence, with an on-board system for dealing with the emotional character of this ride through Life. In other words, each of us can become more solid, and resilient, by looking for anxiety-provoking circumstances of the right magnitude, and putting ourselves through them. Later, I realized this was a kind of self-building process. After that, I have been on the look-in for these kind of opportunities.
Maturation, it turns out, is partly self-directed. We are all like our cousins, the salmon. It is our desire to be all that we can be, that takes us out to sea, but it is the even greater desire to fully be ourselves, which draws us back to the source. Risking ourselves is how we swim and develop the capacity to deal with obstacles.
We live in a society that doesn’t provide many ladders, that has very little idea of the source, that doesn’t easily regard inner evolution. So it is up to each of us, to create for ourselves the wherewithal to turn ourselves free. The real ladders, desire and source are all within. Salient risk unlocks the inner door, and each of us must muster the courage, in the face of the pressing unknown, to motivate ourselves, and enter.
There are no free lunches. There is no ride through life, where Life itself, doesn’t ask things of us. Salient risk-taking is one of those things. One can live without it, but how one lives, and how much of Life one embraces, depends upon the saliency of the risking involved
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For more pieces like this, go to http://www.elderssalon2.blogspot.com (2014 on)
To hear archived versions of our radio program Growing An Elder Culture go to www.elderculture.com
To read excerpts, or otherwise learn, about Embracing Life: Toward A Psychology of Interdependence go to http://www.davidgoff.net