Privilege, risk and cartwheels

I’m stalling. I need to clean the garage today, but instead I’m writing.

It have been an eventful couple of weeks. I was screened out of a series of jobs where I live, because, from what I can tell, it is too risky to hire someone who is not doing the exact same job, right now. Then, I got an offer for what might be a better job, doing something very similar. Somewhere else. Meaning a move. Not only a move, but a move to one of the most expensive cities to get housing in the world. As a single parent with five kids.

I think I have only made one decision that was harder in my entire life – and while that’s not a story to tell today, the awful of it (and it was awful) has had such a profound impact on the way I approach choosing to stay silent & put up with the status quo, encouraging change, and taking risks.

While staring at a send button, I read Martin Weller’s post The privilege of risk. While I agree with Martin that it is easiest to take a risk when it is not really a risk because the safety nets are thick and deep, I also wonder if you gain something from learning to live without a safety net. (This is dangerous territory, as it runs the risk of glorifying precarity and living through bad experiences and sounding a lot like “everything happens for a reason” and you’ll be stronger for it” – All of which is nonsense.)

So maybe I better reframe that statement to say that I’m starting to wonder if perhaps the safer a world we live in, the less we recognize the safety nets we actually have in place and the more new ones we want. I heard, for example, yesterday about a school wanting to ban cartwheels from a playground because they can cause concussions. I have no doubt they can if you fall on your head, but how much safety is too much? Walking, climbing, swinging, dancing, and standing can also cause concussions if you fall on your head. Maybe it would be better for us all to wear helmets all the time that to ban these activities? (Come to think of it, why don’t we wear helmets all the time?)

Back to the decisions I am faced with: Do I stay where I am at the risk of doing a fine but not terribly exciting job for the next 25 years? What makes me think I am different than the hundreds of other really smart and overqualified people all around me who do their jobs without complaining (much)? Is accepting where you are simply part of growing up? What about the kids?? Is it just time for me to get my head out of the idealist clouds? What bits of me will be eroded if I learn to accept the way things are?

It feels like an impossible decision. I wonder, what is the ‘right’ thing to do?  Then I think about Daughters of Destiny, a Netflix series I watched recently, the story of kids going to a boarding school for a chance at a better life. I watched those kids and parents navigate truly impossible choices. The risks I’m struggling with seem embarrassingly small in comparison. In both scenarios I’m likely to stay employed, be able to acquire housing, and find schools for my kids to attend. I am likely to have the money to pay for food and other things. I am reminded of the extreme privilege I enjoy.

I suddenly feel like I am deciding between banning cartwheels, mandating helmets for all students, and the reckless decision to allow cartwheels without helmets to continue.

So while I agree that risk for risk sake is problematic and can be destructive, I think about how easy it is to become too used to the safety that surrounds us, and as a result slowly allow our beliefs, ethics and being to slip away.

I lost myself once. I slipped away slowly, one small, seemingly inconsequential decision at a time, choosing to keep the peace at all costs, choosing to preserve material safety, bound by fear. It has taken almost ten years to recover myself. So maybe what I am trying to say, is that while risk for risk sake is a problem, so are inaction and silence due to fear.

Many of us might do well to risk doing a cartwheel in the playground, or even lean backwards on a swing. And our kids (and students) might be better for seeing us do it.

3 thoughts to “Privilege, risk and cartwheels”

  1. Tanya, I have a natural bias in favor of cartwheels and even handstands without spotters or mats, so I think I’m with you here. Even if you are not faced with dramatic existential risks by making a move, reaching a decision that fits for you and your family does not become less tough because you have perhaps a bit more slack than others. As you are reflecting deeply, the chances that you will arrive at a good place with yourself in tact increase substantially. That’s my hope at least. Wishing you all the best in the process!

  2. Those last two sentences are beautiful. really. and the bit about how when we’re ‘safe’ we recognise these things less- a numbness or atrophy of discernment, or something like that. I agree.

    What you have written is so affirming – you got this, and that is clear. Feet firmly o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶g̶r̶o̶u̶n̶d̶ in the air.

  3. The only sure judgement of risk is via hindsight. The best one can do is to go with your gut, follow your hunches, and keep juggling all the plates i the air (wow, can I find more metaphors anywhere?)

    So you either do stuff that you can look back on one day, or face that day when you can neatly sweep your pile of regrets. More likely we will end up with both.

    Wishing you the best in the transition; I think you are spot on that your kids are watching closely, and trusting you.

    I’ve never done a cartwheel in my life. Never saw a reason to. But it might still happen.

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