Alpine mountaineers - especially those who climb the big mountains (25,000’ and higher) – have an inviolable dictum coined by world-renown alpinist, Ed Viesturs: “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” For those who ignore the first part of the saying – such as those involved in the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster – it is often their last climb.
Life is full of challenges and risks. An integral part of wisdom is judging which challenges to confront (or bail out of) and, after studious assessment, which risks are sensible to take.
Daredevils test the limits of human abilities and/or endurance. Free diving (no equipment) champion Audrey Mestre died trying to break the world record of 531.5 feet underwater. 21-year-old Indian snake catcher, Somnath Mhatre, died while kissing a cobra. Famed New Zealand mountaineer, Rob Hall, died high on Mt. Everest after violating his “absolute rule” of turning back downhill no later than 2 p.m. The examples go on ad infinitum of those who took ridiculous risks for some unfathomable reason and breathed their last.
Very few people leap off cliffs in wingsuits or try to jump over fourteen city buses on a motorcycle. But all of us are faced with risks and challenges that need to be carefully weighed to determine whether to proceed or not.
- Which financial investments are worth risking the bulk of one’s assets?
- Is it reasonable to have unprotected sex with a virtual stranger?
- Is the risk of hiking alone in wilderness environs with little or no experience sane?
- Does driving with a blood alcohol level of .25 make sense?
- Is refusing medical assessment for serious symptoms judicious?
Some risks are more worth taking than others . . . but the payback and attendant possible consequences need to be carefully and responsibly appraised before leaping into whatever void might beckon. Remember: getting to the top is optional.