Please gauge your initial reaction to this fact I’m about to tell you. Ready? Here it goes:
Last year Alicia and I bought a 26′ sailboat without knowing how to sail or having ever sailed.
I’ve observed a spectrum of responses. On one extreme, people think that what we did was irresponsible, dangerous, selfish, and short-sighted. In the other direction, people see what we did as a profound, beautiful, carpe-diem statement about adventure, loving life, and living freely. Most fall somewhere in between, or rather, like me, somewhere in both extremes. But while I think that there is a compelling case to be made about my general idiocy, I see buying that boat as one of my proudest moments. When I think about that decision, I exhort myself to maintain that part of me. I yearn to be that type of guy.
However, I just finished this book by David Mercy, Berserk: My Voyage to the Antarctica in a Twenty-Seven-Foot Sailboat, and, though I enjoyed the writing, I found them stupid, irresponsible, and selfish. The Captain had just sailed single handedly down to Argentina from Norway at the age of 19 in a boat he named Berserk because everyone thought he was nuts. Then two men, author included, who had never sailed before in their lives (they seemed to never have learned even how to tack) join him for a trip to Antarctica, across the worst seas in the world, far away from help, without a working engine, proper clothing, or knowing each other remotely well. They go through major storms, mutiny, and extreme physical discomfort; near death experiences are the norm.
I want to go berserk, but not that berserk. How about you? How berserk is, ethically speaking, optimally berserk for you? It seems to me that if you do not know, it is not even possible for you to have a happy life.
None of us want to go through life always being the responsible adult or always the risk-taking adventurer. So, while the moderate middle way is different for all of us, it is also the same in that it is always a middle way. None of us want to give up on adventure entirely or responsibility entirely. In this at least we can relate to each other’s decisions, for we share the value that caused the decision, if not the same valuation of that value.
One way we each gauge how berserk is berserk enough is by looking at the people we love. One of the reasons I thought the sailors in Beserk were selfish was because they did not fully consider the ramifications of their own possible deaths. What about their family and friends? We cannot let our parents, or even our spouse, for example, rule dictatorially over what constitutes our middle way. But if we care at all about family and friends, we better be willing to compromise. Hopefully that compromise will fall somewhere close enough to the middle way we might make in a vacuum, close enough so that we can still be happy. If not, you’re screwed. You cannot choose yourself over family and friends and still be happy, and vice-versa.
Your family and friends, however, can do much to allow you to be happy. We could all do each other a favor. Amongst our families and amongst our friends, we should not be so quick to judge each others’ morals for falling in different places along the spectrum. Alan the aligator-farmer might be more reckless than you, or less reckless, but if Alan is living as recklessly as what he sees as exactly right, we can only applaud him for it, and of course, if we want to change his behavior, talk.
Of course, for some, confronting a loved one about how they live is just too berserk. If so, let me break my own rule and judge you: you need to live more dangerously. As for me, I love adventuresome confrontation, but that’s a topic of another post.