I was driving home from work the other day and as I passed through a neighborhood, a young kid maybe 14-15 was skateboarding down the middle of the road. This was a two lane residential street with space for on-street parking on one side. Cars were lined on the opposite side so that leaves maybe 24 feet for me and oncoming cars. Of my 12 feet, this kid decided to go right down the middle. There were sidewalks on both sides of the street and despite the fact that he was moving at a walking pace, they apparently weren’t good enough. My young friend looked back at me several times and as I approached to within 50 feet or so, he saw no need to give way.
Wanna hear me sound old? “When I was a kid…” yes we actually feared cars on the road…they hurt! Oh sure we’d say “hit me and I’ll sue” because everyone knew that the surest way to fortune was a six figure settlement from some litigious ambulance chasing scumbag lawyer. But times were different, when you went out to “play” there was a 90% chance that you were going to get hurt. Riding bicycles? We didn’t even know there were helmets. Skiing at the Bradford bump? = Chinese Downhill (where does that awful name come from anyway?). Sledding down Nottingham? The whole point was to push your opponent into a tree or a parked car. Bumper skiing behind the bus? Sounds awesome until you realize you are going too fast and have to let go.
I could go on, but I think you get the point that actions actually used to have consequences. So fear really meant something. I know I am being hypocritical here. We protect the girls so much that they don’t even really realize that there are recreational activities that actually hurt. When life has no consequences, there is no reason to act responsibly. You could say my skateboarding friend is no different from irresponsible bankers lending money to wannabe homeowners with no means of paying a mortgage. Those bankers are in their 30s and 40s, my age. Declaring bankruptcy is so easy now that who cares if you screw up. You get 3 lives in Donkey Kong, don’t you get a “do over” in life too?
I’m a big fan of personal responsibility. It is emblematic of the New Hampshire spirit. I like to meet people with that can-do, take-charge-of-my-own-destiny mentality; shovel my own driveway, build my own deck, change my own brakes, repair my own sled (aka snowmobile). It helps me to believe that it is possible that the next generation will have at least some people that believe that they have responsibility for their lives and what happens to them. People that know what it is like to take risks, to understand the consequences of excessive risk will always be the ones that understand the satisfaction of personal success as well as the consequences of not taking any risk. You want to play in the street? Fine, but have the respect, the responsibility to know when to get out of the way. When did the world become so “me” focused that kids now feel entitled to own the road? Is the new ‘normal’ an attitude that someone will provide for me, so what difference does risk make? Given the way my generation was raised, yet displayed some of the irresponsibility that created the Financial crisis, what will this new generation grow up to become? They know no responsibility- they feel entitled to gadgets and technology and the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality such that they don’t even make risk-weighted choices anymore. Mommy and daddy will come through for me, my lawyer will get me off because I’m just a kid, why learn anything when I can Google it?
Life’s lessons of risk and consequence should be baked into everything, that is how you raise a generation with respect for natural and given resources. Unless you have seen Wayne’s World, no one even knows what “Game Off” means anymore. When we played street hockey, we didn’t even have nets. We set up 2 rocks at either end of the street. No one took wild shots: you had to chase the ball. You wanted the side going uphill even if it was harder running: the ball didn’t roll as far. When someone parked on the street: you knocked on the house door and asked very politely if they would move their car so we could play. When you see a car heading this way: “Game Off!” and step to the side of the street. We would even make sure to use low profile rocks: Who could afford to pay for undercarriage work if a car hit one of the rocks when driving over? In a world where everyone plays in organized leagues with refs and protective equipment and liability release forms and cheering parents and trophies and designated snack providers and a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who even thinks about risk anymore?