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Why are We Drawn to Danger?


I was in Cape Town a few years ago, an exquisitely beautiful city on the tip of Africa. During that trip we ventured out to a wildlife reserve.  Aside from riding around in a partially open vehicle through areas with lions, elephants, buffalo, and rhino you could, for an extra fee, spend time with the cheetahs.

I learned that cheetahs are capable of being domesticated and they were the cats of royalty. Yet, they are wild animals with an instinct to kill for survival built into their DNA.  On one hand I was attracted to this experience, and on the other, I realized that within a nano-second this animal could do a great deal of harm to me. I calculated the risk and decided it was worth it. Why? I figured that they just couldn’t be offering this experience if there were casualties strewn about. And yet, there would always be that chance of startling or touching the creature in the wrong way, and paying a severe price.

I found it exhilarating to find my arm being licked by this incredibly powerful cat who is capable of accelerating from zero to sixty miles and hour in three-seconds. As the tongue, courser than any sand paper I have ever touched, worked its way up and down my arm and leg, I realized how vulnerable I was; but also how exciting it felt. It was the thrill of a new frontier, of extending my own personal boundary.

Pondering this experience I came to realize that this is symbolic of what we all face in life.  We are often called to reach out of our comfort zones and try something new. It doesn’t matter what it is. By reaching beyond the predictable and consciously going a little further, we expand.

There is the resistance in our minds, that voice that finds all of the rational reasons not to take a chance. Yet, there is the countervailing voice also that says, “What if you do? How good will you feel for having tried something new?” Better yet, after such an experience, how do you feel?

As I rode home, I thought about how unusual this experience was.  It was a first, and I felt  empowered.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to a little danger. If we face it and get through it, we feel stronger and more alive. I’m not talking about recklessness such as riding in a speeding car with a drunk driver; I’m talking about a reasonable return on one’s apprehension.

Many of our fears actually relate to a concern about embarrassment — the idea that we will look foolish if we fail. But as a friend of mine once said, “Be embarrassed once a week, for you will know you are truly alive.”

In these particular times, especially with global climate concerns, economic challenges, and divisive political atmospherics flashing yellow and red lights everywhere, there is the need to shore up, to reach for self-empowerment tools, and bring those into daily life.

Is there something you’ve been wanting to do, but have felt resistance to undertaking it?  Ask yourself how good you’ll feel if you do it, and you succeed. Maybe it’s time to pet the cheetah?

– Sanderson Sims, 1.17.2020
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