What can we get away with?

A co-worker is planning her long-deserved month-long vacation. Knowing I’m a book warm and a travel addict (or used to be), she asks me for some travel journals to read. She was the one that I’ve dragged along with me to rock climbing gym, scuba diving, and later sky diving. Once when she was filling out another “If I died during the action, I promise I or any of my relatives won’t sue you” form, she commented, “How come I’m always filling out this kind of forms whenever I’m out with you?” I give her Michael Crichton’s Travels. “Urgh!” She winced, “I’m looking for leisure travel, not adventuresome ones!” But she takes the book and starts reading anyway.

Then she just IMed me,
She: “Guess what?”
I: “What?”
She: “I’m reading that Crichton book. The story on his diving in Baire?”
I: “Ya. Do you like it?”
She: “He concluded at the end that subconsciously he was trying to get himself killed.”
I: “WHAT?! I don’t remember that!”
She: “Ya. He said the reason he had been trying more and more dangerous activities was because he wanted to kill himself. Remember? Once with the sharks, once on the wreck?”
I: “Oh, ya. Right. Maybe subconsciously I’ve been blocking that conclusion out of my mind.”
She: “I think he is right. We all are. Kept on trying and eventually we will get it.”
I: “hmmm¡­ maybe we just want to see what we can get away with. Not really get us killed, but want to see how far we can push the envelope?”
She: “maybe…”

That reminds me of a piece of news I heard on NPR yesterday. One senior manager at MCI was released from prison. He had been fresh out of business school with an MBA degree. Started climbing the management ladder at MCI. Then he found out the top-guys didn’t want to hear bad news. In order to advance himself, he started to use accounting tricks to hide loses and to report false profit. It worked and he got promoted faster and faster. Eventually he noticed that he could pocket money along the way so he did. He pocketed approximately $6 Millions of it. The NPR reporter asked him what made him do it, was it greed or the rush of getting away with it? He thought for a second and said, a little bit of both.

Why is “getting away with it” such a rush? It seems to be within each and every one of us, that rush of doing things we know we are not supposed to do and yet we could get away with it. Why are we such testy animals? Why does that impulse exist in our vein when it is directing us toward the opposite direction of safety and survival?

Or is it that impulse, in the larger scheme of things, ensuring our survival? For example: discovery of the American continent, ability to fly, space travel, or the collapse of Enron?

2 thoughts on “What can we get away with?

  1. I think you’re right — if we’re not ready to test the limits then we wouldn’t be able to push the boundry. Not just on the greater level of human race, but even as individuals, could we have learned to run or to swim as children, being fully aware how it could hurt to fall or choke or even drown? Or to drive a car later? These are statistically pretty dangerous activities.

    Why do we do dangerous things? I think we just don’t really believe that bad things can happen to us. Even if the statistics is grim, the bad things always happen to OTHER people, don’t we all believe? Maybe we just don’t want to believe that bad things can happen to us, so we ignore the possibilities.

  2. meow! 🙂 another observation kind of proved a point mfd tried to make before. The adventuresome people in general have less chance to reproduce before they were “gone”. So in a way, natural selection is keeping the percentage of reckless people to a minimun.

    hmmm… “feeling invincible”. that’s a good point. It reminds me of the great Kings in history: Alexander the Great, Charles the Great (? the Swedish king who fought 14 years war with Peter the Great) both had that convication — they are God’s representitive and therefore would never be struck down.

    So what exactly is courage, then? Is it just recklessness? or the ability to surpress fear in one’s heart?

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