If You Don’t Risk – You Don’t Lose – You Don’t Fucking Win Either

Dear KK,

We’re well into 2016 and everyone seems to be very excited about everything. The big excitement around the world in the last week was very much focused on lotteries. The one in the USA was called Powerball and there was the Euromillions one in, unsurprisingly, Europe. They both had stupid, silly amounts of money available to be won by anyone willing to spend a little bit of money to take a chance. I remember clearly that one of the lotteries’ marketing strategy was the clever ‘you can’t win if you don’t play’. Seems logical and convincing on the surface. According to various experts, who cashed in on being experts last week (if anyone won the lottery the experts certainly did), the chances of winning the Powerball lottery were equal to being eaten by a shark and struck by lightening at the same time. Sounds like fair odds, huh?

gambler

I suppose gambling seems like a pretty good theme for Badass Auntie to share some wisdom today under the circumstances because, quite frankly, life is a lot like gambling, except the stakes are higher and the chances of you winning a billion dollars are probably less likely than being eaten by a shark and struck by lightning. Humans are deeply hardwired to be attracted to gambles and, as a result, we are a very successful opportunistic species on this planet. There are some good and bad things about this.

The good thing is that we have evolved to be pretty fucking good at risk assessment. We measure the potential pitfalls of risks we take on a day to day basis and, for the most part, make decisions that will at least protect us from serious harm and at best, provide us with something that we want. For example, crossing a street is always a gamble. Not everyone pays attention to the speed limit, drives safely, is in control of their vehicle or sober on the road. We evaluate the risks when we cross and, if we’re good at it, we reduce the risks of being run over by a car. It’s still a risk, but one we take sensibly and carefully to survive each day. Different people have different levels of risks they are willing to take. Some people won’t fly in planes. Some people jump off tall buildings with little more than a fabric suit on that will enable them to fly. Some people won’t swim in the sea. Other people will dive a hundred feet deep without any equipment to help them keep alive. I have to admit that the fliers and divers are fucking bonkers in my opinion, but then I’ve probably taken risks that they think are insane too.

The bad thing about the human affinity for risk taking is that our brains are hardwired to love it. We love it so much that we build temples to worship it. These temples are known as casinos. Humans can visit these temples, some ornate and full of further temptation and some shabby and sad. For those drawn to this type of worship, either environment will meet their needs when their needs are needy. Many, many years ago when I was studying animal behaviour one of my teachers explained it like this. Keep in mind that back in those days, humans smoked cigarettes in public places. No one really cared about those risks, even though they were well known. Aren’t we a funny bunch. Anyway, because of this, pubs sold cigarettes to their customers. So, in the UK, there were always two machines in every pub that you could put money in. There was a cigarette machine, where you could put a certain amount of money (if I remember it was one pound fifty for some weird number like 15 cigarettes, but I’m sure that’s inaccurate) and there was a fruit machine. Before we move on, I just have to say that you might not know what a fruit machine is. A fruit machine is commonly known in the USA as a one armed bandit, but doesn’t ‘fruit machine’ sound so much more inviting and less dangerous than a ‘one armed bandit’, which, quite frankly, sounds sort of terrifying.

Getting back to the point – there were these two machines. One you would put money into and you’d know that you’d get something of equal value (cigarettes – and I’ve forgotten to mention that in the UK cigarettes were known as ‘fags’ but that’s a whole nother blog) from it if you put money into it. Predictable and safe – well, except for the smoking bit. The other machine was a gamble. You’d put money into it and may or may not get something back. In fact, logically, the likelihood was that you wouldn’t get much back because what would be the point of them having the machine there if they weren’t going to make money from you. Yet, which machine would humans stand and pump money into all night? The fruit machine, of course. Even though they were pretty safe in the knowledge that they were going to lose their money. The human condition of risk taking and opportunism compelled them beyond logic.

All successful social species have an element of risk taking and an inclination towards gambling in their DNA. This is why we can train animals to do things for rewards and how they manage to survive. It’s a good skill to have. Learning to use it wisely and to have some impulse control are also good skills to have. Things like these lotteries are not really good at encouraging sensible behaviour in respect to risk taking and, I believe, exploit the hopes and dreams of the poor to make a lot of rich people even richer. There’s no doubt that someone probably will win a shit load of money. They usually do. The sad thing is that very few of those winners have the skills necessary to make good use of that money. Most of them lose it all. Just like those people in the pub, who pump money into a fruit machine.

So, my little honey bumpkin. Here is today’s wisdom from your Badass Auntie. Risk taking is good. It’s healthy. It’s a gamble, but it might pay off. Having impulse control and only gambling when you can afford the possible loss are the two things that will make you a successful gambler in life. I don’t want you to be the guy who pumps his money into the fruit machine of life all night in the pub and staggers home broke and miserable, only to work all week so you can do it the following Friday. I also don’t want you to be the guy, who never takes a chance on doing something new, fabulous, exciting or even a little bit dangerous because you’re too scared of failure, embarrassment or getting hurt. Always remember that as long as you can handle the outcome however bad or good it might seem, it’s worth taking a chance. Getting better at anything, becoming great at anything – that requires risk – just look both ways before you cross the road and count no one but yourself to make things right if you lose the bet. Oh, and don’t waste your money on lottery tickets. If you really want to throw money away, give it to someone who is more needy than you are – because that, for them, will be as good or better than winning the lottery. Or, fuck it. Just give the money to me and I’ll buy wine.

Much love from your Badass Auntie

Dear CK,

Today I talked to your brother about risk taking and will expand on that notion here. I live in a country where children are allowed to play, without adult supervision, from a very young age. They are normally with friends, cousins and siblings and the older children help to look after the younger children. I’ve seen groups of children ranging from two years to eleven years playing on the docks over the water, chasing each other through the woods, playing football in the street and running around in the playgrounds all without adult interference. They jump into pools that have no fences or gates, run around with stray dogs, climb trees, ride bicycles and generally have a pretty free and fun childhood. They also don’t seem to ever get seriously hurt. This may sound crazy.  Who lets little children run around without adult supervision? Who would let children play in a pool without any adults present or a lifeguard? Think of all the bad things that could happen.

Ah. Maybe we spend too much time thinking about all the bad things that could happen and as a result, we become scared of everything. In the USA, where you live, people are obsessive about gates and fences around pools in case a child falls in and drowns. Here, most children can’t even swim properly, run around on the wet concrete and yet they don’t fall down, crack their heads open or drown. What’s going on? Children here are taught, from day one, that they have to live with the consequences of their actions. In fact, I know many a parent who will chastise and punish their small child if that child comes in from play time and managed to get hurt. They punish the child for not being more careful. I don’t advocate hitting kids because they hurt themselves, or for any other reason, but there certainly is something to be said for educating young humans into learning how to be sensible and responsible.  In the USA, the parent would probably find someone to sue, as a friend of mine pointed out recently. There seems to be a pervading culture in many countries – not just the USA – whereby someone else is always to blame when things go wrong.

There’s also this thing known as ‘helicopter parenting’ that I’m hearing about. Its unimaginable to me, who was lucky enough to grow up in a time very similar to what is described above, when I could go out and play with my friends in the woods, ride horses on my own and swim on the beach without anyone keeping an eye on me, at my own risk. As long as I came home when I was supposed to and didn’t get into any trouble, I was fine. I remember how much I loved my bicycle. I would go out and ride it for miles, on the road, on my own and felt like I had all the freedom in the world.  Then when I moved on to riding horses, I would spend hours and days riding alone, bareback in the woods and on the beach, falling off, getting back on, getting kicked, stepped on battered and bruised.  It was amazing. Many kids will never experience that sense of freedom.  Not because they live in more dangerous times, more dangerous neighbourhoods or because their parents can’t afford to buy them a bicycle, but because now they will be forced to wear a helmet and possibly all sorts of other safety gear, won’t be allowed out to cycle alone or with just a gang of other children and because they have had the fear of a god or goddess put into them about ‘stranger danger’, which itself is pretty much a modern day fairy tale.

children playing

I don’t envy your parents in this day and age. I’m sure they feel all sorts of social pressure to put you in the ‘right’ school, to make sure you learn whatever it is that everyone thinks is important right now, to never get a visit from social services because some nosy neighbour noticed that you were playing with a stick in the park and they couldn’t see you wearing safety gear.  Child rearing has become insanely risk averse and I wonder what sort of adults are going to come out of this at the other end.  Will they be scared of everything or will they be unable to make good risk assessments in dangerous situations? Will they rebel and all take up life threatening sporting activities or will they all hide in their rooms and conduct their social lives via social media? It’s an interesting social experiment and I must admit I’m glad I’m not part of it.

I never had children, though I’ve spent time with and around many through being a youth worker, helping a boyfriend raise his child, volunteering in schools and terrorising friends’ children. If there is anything I’ve learned, there is only so much a parent can do for you and all the rest is meaningless and simply a neurotic attempt to fit into society’s norms and expectations. So, today your Badass Auntie is going to tell you what you should expect from your parents. I hope they don’t mind, but I’m sure I don’t care if they do.

Your parents should provide you with as good nutrition as they are capable of as well as plentiful clean drinking water. Your parents should not abuse you physically or mentally and their soul focus should be on developing a sense of great self esteem in you. The greatest gift any parent can give their child is the ability to believe in themselves. Funnily enough, the best way for parents to teach children not to believe in themselves is to not allow them to be independent, make mistakes and live with consequences – but hey, who fucking cares when you can sue someone instead.

Your parents should provide you with shelter and a decent basic education that will get you to anywhere you might choose to go. Keep in mind that conventional education is not the do all and end all and many, many people are huge successes both in academia, the arts, business and life, who did not get what’s considered a good quality education. Once you know the basics, if you have great self belief, you will be able to do and achieve anything and everything you want to. No school, however fancy, clever or expensive, will change that.

Your parents should give you unconditional love. They should let you learn from your mistakes and teach you to live with the consequences of your actions. They should teach you the basics like how to make yourself food, shop, wash your clothes and pay bills. They should teach you how to get a job and keep it. They should give you time alone and space to be creative. If they can afford it they can even help you along with some tools to aid your creativity. They’ll make sure you get the basic medical care you need to keep you alive and healthy.  Oh and sex education. That’s really important.  That’s pretty much it. Then, the final gift to you should be to say ‘bye bye – good luck in the world, see you during the holidays’.

I’ve seen families raise children from all economic backgrounds.  I can tell you now that money has no bearing on the sort of human being you will turn out to be. It might help you to get into better higher education institutions or open doors for you for better jobs – but it won’t make you a happy, good, fulfilled person. Life is short. Live it. Love it. Experience it. Believe in yourself and take responsibility for your own happiness. Don’t ever let anyone determine what you’ll be, how you’ll get there or what you’re going to do in your life. Appreciate the basics, expect and demand nothing else and say thank you. Visit on the holidays. Oh, and call your mother, pretty regularly. That’s just one of those things you must always do.

Much love from your Badass Auntie

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