I think kids should run and fall down, talk to strangers, get lost, be scared, suffer consequences and so grow stronger, more vital. Too bad if they get injured and traumatized; they’ll heal -- and bear scars that tell good stories. Our culture has become too fearful, and this isn’t good for us.
Macbeth’s witch, Hecate, prophesies at the beginning of the play, “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” This declaration led to many animated discussions in my English classrooms. It means “Our need to be in control is ultimately our downfall.” America’s drive over the past thirty years of my sixty year life toward safeguarding its citizens from all perceived harm outdoors has led to 93% of this young generation’s life being led indoors, and this is killing them. The safe indoor life leads to obesity, attention deficit disorder, digital addiction, and worst of all to disconnection from Mother Earth with all her nurturing and all her lessons and all her strengthening impact on health and intelligence.
Outward Bound, I am told, was started by Norwegian military skiers in World War II who observed that older men lived while younger men died when they faced survival challenges. The olders had faced severe crises before and knew from experience they could live through it, so they acted wisely and practically. The youngsters freaked out and gave up and died. So, they started an outdoor education program that faced participants with measured risk in order to strengthen their nerve and spirit.
At a wonderful conference in Victoria BC called Get Outside! It’s Our Nature, the opening keynote address was given by the wildlife artist Robert Bateman. He spoke of travels where he observed how other cultures encourage the outdoor life. In Barcelona, he showed a photo of urban landscape architecture that included a series of fountains and ledges where children were encouraged to play. Curious about the obvious public danger, he queried the architects. They said they had “built in risk on purpose,” because true play requires a little risk, a little edginess, a little adrenalin.
In Coyote’s Guide we argue that the best learning occurs when a little adrenalin focuses the mind and suddenly sears an imprint in the memory. Too much fear, true terror, is NOT good for us – we freeze and block out learning. But just enough fear to cause just enough stress to activate our full range of muscle and cognitive motion is EXACTLY good for us. It creates the optimal learning environment.
So, let’s recover our natural birthright – for ourselves and our children -- , let’s take back the night, the cold, the wet, the strange, the scary, the risky, the challenging. Let’s go outside and play!