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Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.

The more experiments you make the better.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the toughest lessons to learn, especially for those who live in the western
world, is that our bodies were designed to work hard, to struggle, to overcome.
This does not set well with people who were raised on the belief that the easy
life was ahead, that leisure was the way of the future. We were designed to
overcome, but it isn't necessary that we overcome difficulties that we could
easily have avoided.

Ease and leisure were never the way of the future, except in the minds of those
whose intention was to profit from designing and producing products to sell to us
using the hook that our lives will be easier. Did dishwashers, computers or
televisions make our lives better, considering all of the consequences that
resulted from their use?

Technology gives us the opportunity to learn more, to grow, to expand who we are.
But it comes at a cost. In some cases, the cost has been obesity, broken
marriages, families with two working parents who still can't make ends meet and
kids who play video games at home because their parents feel it's too dangerous
for them to be alone on the streets. True, those are not immediate consequences,
but downstream results of life changes that resulted from using these "essential"

Emerson's point is that it's all right to make mistakes, to experiment and fail,
because life is about experimenting. That means that more learning comes from
failure than from success. We can accept one change without buying into a series
of life changes that sometimes result from it.

Success brings an end to growth for many people, whereas each failure gives an
opportunity to rebuild ourselves better than ever before. Setbacks are
opportunities for those who know how to rebuild themselves. These are not skills
that are widely taught in schools.

What we must be cautious about is experimenting with things that could have tragic
consequences. Usually that requires us to investigate the consequences that have
resulted from other people doing something we anticipate doing ourselves. If they
have caused too much grief, the risk must be assessed before launching into the
new venture.

An example would be people who experiment with taking drugs. In most cases, people
who begin taking illegal drugs have been encouraged to do so by others who want
company (or sales). Often the first experiments are free offerings. Tobacco
companies have done this outside of schoolyards--mostly recently in some African
countries--giving free cigarettes to children as young as six years. Kids only a
couple of years older than that have been offered free street drugs. Kids don't
know the downside of taking street drugs.

These children and even adolescents and adults who try street drugs have usually
not been advised about how using them has destroyed the lives and the futures of
many people who used the same drugs before them. Very few people will experiment
with a drug if they have met someone whose life and family have been destroyed by
drug use.

Many people would say that "Common sense should prevail." It should. However,
common sense is not innate to us at birth. All common sense (if there be any such
thing) is taught commonly, to all people, usually in childhood. People don't use
common sense if they have not been taught how to apply themselves to a decision
about experimenting with something new.

At the rate we can see from newspapers and lists such as the Darwin Awards that
people have not used common sense, we must conclude that it has not been taught to
every child. Walk through supermarket aisles and you might believe that almost
none of the people you see have been taught the common sense rules of sharing
space with others.

Common sense is a series of life skills that should be included in the curriculum
of every school district. Every one of those skills is more important and more
useful than any given bit of learning in chemistry, mathematics or language. Every
one is usable by every person who knows it.

Experiment with life, yes, but do so with some degree of caution and research so
that tragedy is not a certainty for the future.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,'
striving to make human needs a necessary part of learning for every child.
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