Wednesday, May 07, 2014

YOLO? Maybe not the best mantra

Do You Fall in the "You Only Live Once" Trap? Or, Fake Self-Actualization | LinkedIn

If you find yourself throwing caution to the wind more often lately, you might want to rethink your approach to decision-making.  The "YOLO" tag is ubiquitous these days, appended to every sort of bizarre announcement conceivable.  It's become a rallying cry and an indication of enlightened interest in experiential activity.

And it's a fabulous excuse.

By shouting your intention to risk everything, you cover you bases on the finer points of making good, rational, useful decisions.  How cool is that?  Not very when you're dealing with horses.  Humans enjoy the occasional titillation that comes with flaunting bad behavior in the face of the Sanity Rule Book.  Horses not so much.  You can whip your cohort into a frenzy of idiocy by concocting a stunt-to-beat-all stunt.  Your horse feels the elevated pulse, hears your heavy breathing, feels your clenched butt muscles as you steer him toward that 50-foot cliff, but he's not thinking, YOLO, Suckers!  He's wondering what is going to happen next and how best to get out of this predicament.  Horses are about self-preservation above all.  So when he veers quickly or stops completely and sends your enthusiasm into the dirt, it's not unexpected.  And trying things that are obviously dangerous are not a sign of bravery.  It's important not to let fear stand in the way of your activities as long as the fear isn't reality-based.  Non-reality-based fear is called paranoia, and it's not helpful either.  But a nice dose of the real world is always a plus.

Risk-taking in adolescents has been studied at length, and there is a consensus that, for the most part, it is a learning experience.  Without taking risks, we never go beyond the current level of performance, progress, or knowledge.  So when your teen decides to sneak a drink with his buddies behind the library one Wednesday night, he's testing the limits of his ability to cope, and his ability to lie with a straight face while under the influence.  He's also testing several other limits including your sense of smell and the cop's sense of humor.
"Hey!  Let me drive, okay?  What could possibly go wrong?"

But there is a point at which risk-taking leaves the arena of Fun Ways to Drive Parents Crazy and enters the Knocking on Death's Door part of the show.  There's a fine line.  Freud called it the inevitable outcome of the human drive toward death.  I am not sure Freud wasn't a little depressed.  More often than not, risk-taking is a result of a lack of experience.  What appears to be irrational behavior is actually behavior based on ignorance.  Not stupidity, just the inability to predict the outcome due to a lack of knowledge surrounding the situation.

Learning is incremental.  It takes time and small steps of achievement to really seal a skill into your mind and body.  You're not going to learn it all at once even as you're watching the ground open beneath you.  You'll still have to do it over and over (and over again) until you've actually learned it, and the closer to the endpoint you start, the less chance there is that you'll reach mastery before you hit disaster.  It's numbers, baby.  It's just the odds.  And it's the same for you and for your horse.

In the horse world, ignorance probably accounts for most of the risky behavior, especially in new riders and first-time horse owners.  You don't know what you don't know, and sometimes finding out is painful and injurious to body and spirit.  Add a friend, coach, or trainer who is in full YOLO flush yelling encouragement from the sidelines, and there, in a nutshell, is why the insurance companies wanted to label riding an "extreme sport" so they could refuse compensation.

I don't know who the first person was to hop aboard a horse.  I can't even imagine the thought process that led to that.  Kind of like the toad-licking frenzy of decades past.  Who thinks of this stuff?  If climbing on an animal big enough to do serious damage without even trying isn't risky, I don't know what is.  But we don't have to endlessly repeat the effort by continually putting ourselves and our horses into untenable circumstances just to see if we can find a way out.

I also don't know who was first to spend the mortgage checks on an unaffordable hobby, but I'll bet he was yelling something akin to "YOLO!" as he did it.

It is true that you only live once.  If you'd like to live to ride another day, finding sane counselors and learning the basics before you start whatever the new project might be couldn't hurt.  Remember that you are not only putting yourself at risk.  You are risking the life and limb of an animal who most likely didn't get a vote.  Should the worst happen for him, he may wind up at the end of the needle that sends him away from the pain.  For you, the worst might easily be laid on the shoulders of whoever is going to be wiping your butt and clearing your feeding tube far into the future.

So before you yell "YOLO!" and head off into the unknown, be sure you've got some idea of how you intend to move forward after the excitement has worn off.  Keep some of that caution close to you instead of tossing all of it into the wind, and you'll live to ride another day.

Remember, you only live once.

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