Ain't the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

Imagine that you were asked to go to Mars. Suppose NASA came to you and said that you are uniquely qualified to join the first colonization mission to the red planet. You will be compensated financially. You will receive all the training required. The work expected of you is rewarding; it interests you and is compatible with your current skill set. Simply, it's an all around good gig.

There's just one catch; it's a one way trip. The mission is for colonization, not exploration. You are creating a permanent toe hold in space. You will grow old and die there. You will be buried in rust-colored soil.

Would you still go?

Lately I've been meditating on the spirit of adventure. What makes someone break an aviation record, ski across the arctic, plumb the depths of the oceans, summit the word's highest mountains or crawl to the depths of the planet's interior? More mundanely, what makes people hike the Appalachian Trail, cross the continent by motorcycle or train as a pilot? For that matter, what makes me do What I Do?

There is something momentous in these people, the trail blazers, the consummate adventurers. There's a sliver of it in us more prosaic picaroons. But, I don't know what it is. It might be an insatiable curiosity, a burning need to explore, a perpetual boredom, an addiction to experience or a pathological disdain for all things average. It's probably these things and many others combined in differing measure in each person.

Whatever it is, most people don't have it. When asked the above question most people say no. A large fraction say a vociferous no, frightened, unsettled by the very idea. When offered the opportunity to do what no one has done, to go where no one has gone, to do do anything outside their narrow band of experience, to do something incredible, the overriding bulk of humanity would rather just stay home.

Where is the spirit that pushed us out of Mesopotamia, across continents and oceans, to the furthest reaches of the Earth, the highest mountains, the driest deserts, the densest forests? What happened to climbing the mountain just because it's there? Where is the drive that put us on the moon? I used to think that it lived deep in the heart of each person, waiting to be awoken, but I don't believe that anymore.

Maybe I've been watching too much Discovery Channel and spending too much time on TED.com. Perhaps I'm a little too enamored with Richard Branson and Bear Grylls. Maybe I've just reached the stage in life where I have to watch all of my old friends surrender their dreams and abandon their ambitions to the harsh expectations of middle-class upbringing.

What's so seductive about security?

People need more adventure. The soul craves peril and the spirit needs experience. For the sake of the world's psychic wellbeing, everyone needs to get out and do something that excites them, amazes them, scares them. And I mean real exploits, not manufactured stunts. Weekend rafting, manicured campsites and tandem skydives don't cut it. We should live in a world full of Shackletons, Hillarys and Yeagers. We should live in a world of people that, when asked the above question, would all say yes.

So, what would you say?


Anne Johnson said...

This is what I think: There's a "wanderer gene" that some people have, but not others. At the beginning of our species, it was genetically practical to seek new territory. Now that we have settled every last inch of the planet, that gene is still around (in some people), looking for new adventure. I don't have it in my sequence -- that I know.

Tom Harper said...

I always admired that 7-year-old girl (I forget her name) who crashed and died while flying her own plane.

Everyone thought her parents were criminally negligent for letting her operate a plane at such a young age, but flying had been her passion. Her death was tragic, but she had spent her short life doing exactly what she wanted to do.