Chacos column: Human evolution … or just dumb luck?
Sometimes I find myself doing some pretty foolish things. I’ll toss a red shirt in the washing machine even though I’m doing a white wash in warm water. Or I’ll insist on stubbornly making just a single trip into the house precariously balancing too many full grocery bags, even though I know damn well that’s exactly how my grandmother broke her hip. And in a moment of reckless abandon, I may even leave the house without a coat knowing the forecast calls for a blizzard later in the day.
Many of my actions are fairly harmless, and I can say with certainty that I’m really just being lazy or even absentminded. Or both.
Most of the time I make small, careless choices that don’t really inconvenience anyone other than myself. The consequences I have to deal with afterward are small lessons that keep my life zesty and full of little surprises.
However, when I’m feeling a bit riskier and in need of a rush, my infractions step it up a notch and are what I like to call “Tier-Two Stupidity.” I’ll drive a few blocks refusing to put on my seatbelt, or I’ll ride my bike downtown without a helmet. These instances may unfortunately result in harm or hurt as well. And if you’re a kid, the stupidity is probably attached to some sort of dare.
For example, I remember a time when I was 10 years old looking to impress the neighborhood boys. My friend Jenn and I tied a sled to the back of a chainless bike. Yes. A bike without a chain. We hiked to the top of a steep hill hoping to muster the courage to have one person ride the bike with the other fool lying on the sled that trailed behind the bike. Then we raced the bike down the street.
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The bike banked a turn unsuccessfully, and the sled easily flew out from under me. Being summertime, the extra hot pavement resulted in second-degree burns on my chest. Bawling and bleeding, I managed to watch Jenn gain serious speed where her tire eventually found its way to the curb at the bottom of the hill. The bike came to a halt, but Jenn did not. In retrospect, we executed a typical, adolescent, Tier-Two stunt on a silly dare.
On the other hand, an adult is not immune to stupendous, second-tier stunts either. Just a few years ago I launched myself off a ski jump trying to keep up with a kid just shy of 21. Doesn’t sound too risky; however, turns out I’m not much of a ski jumper, and I was twice his age. I was battered and emotionally bruised, but, because I was an adult, I came away with a larger learned lesson that day, like knee surgery is really expensive and a massive inconvenience for your friends and family.
So these days, when I read about some of the stunts executed by kids, I wonder if this is normal behavior or something much, much worse.
The online dares and cyber bullying where teens stuff laundry detergent pods in their mouth or swallow heaps of Cinnamon somewhat frightens me. These consequences can be dire and cause serious bodily damage or even death, like if you were asked to pour rubbing alcohol on your body and then proceed to light yourself on fire.
Or, the most horrific dare I’ve read about is something called the Blue Whale Challenge. After wrapping your head around this teenage prank, you’ll never want your kids online or on social media unsupervised again.
I recognize that pre-teens are supposed to do gross things causing a grounded, sane adult to scratch their head, like eating a mouthful of earthworms on a dare. Young adults are supposed to feed their developing, emotional, thrill-seeking brains with reckless pranks, like pulling off a high school scavenger hunt resulting in a visit from the cops.
But the pranks pulled generations ago just seem to be a whole lot more innocent than the stuff I see going on today. The cause appears clear to me. Even though both of my parents worked full-time and I was left to my own devices daily until dinnertime, my sphere of influence was narrow. I lived in a neighborhood full of other unsupervised kids, but we were children from the ’70s and ’80s with little at our disposal.
We didn’t have the internet, social media and gossip threads that spread at rapid-fire speed making the village idiot an instant celebrity. And even though I shield my own children from what I hope is a lot of negative influences, they still have access to so many things simply unheard of generations ago.
I hope I have the strength and savvy skill to secretly follow all their risky behavior at an appropriate distance so they can learn valuable life lessons when they take manageable, but sometimes unsavory risks. What happens when the lessons to be learned are too great a threat for me to bear? Will I be able to jump in front of them before it’s too late? But simply relying on dumb luck seems to be just as frightening.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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