“The secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as soon as you can not be rulers and owners, you men of knowledge! The time will soon past when you could be content to live concealed in the woods like timid deer!” – Nietzsche, The Gay Science
As a disclaimer I neither am nor intend to be a Nietzsche scholar, what precisely Nietzsche intended is – for my purposes – less important than the meaning I take from it. The following interpretation and comments may, or may not, align with Nietzsche’s actual thinking – and I am quite content in writing MY thinking regardless.
What does it mean to live dangerously? And how can we – as modern people living in a Western society – do it? To live dangerously means to take risks, this can mean physical risks such as those enumerated in Nietzsche’s quote – or even much more mundane risks in our daily lives. Investing in stocks, aggressively negotiating and changing jobs, traveling, playing extreme sports, in other words taking the (few) physical risks available to lead a more richer and more fulfilling life. But this is only half the puzzle.
To truly live dangerously we need to take a idfferent step, and risk something much more dear to us than our physical well being – our internal well being, our identity. What we fear most is being left naked with no excuse to hide our failures and as long as we hold something back we can always excuse our own failures and lessen their sting. But this means we didn’t truly give our everything -> thus we did not live to our full potential. Many individuals imagine they are a good person, but refuse to live in a manner that could expose their true colors. Others that they are capable, intelligent, attractive, likable – but they humble themselves and sully their own virtues so that they may not be tested. This protects the identity built on top of the virtue, but it sacrifices the virtue. If you are anything less than the greatest in the world and you act with humility then your are willing yourself to timidity.
To achieve our greatest potential and fulfillment we must risk our own conceptions of ourselves and press forward even when we risk them being destroyed. Do not be timid. Keep in mind that every injury to our <internal> self can be healed by ourselves. This is vitally important for interpersonal relations, a gesture that doesn’t have a meaningful cost or risk for the one making the gesture has no value of gesture. Obviously expensive gestures can be made flowers, and expensive date, gifts etc. But potentially more meaningful are gestures that risk rejection and sepcifically ones where rejection would result in genuine internal pain to the one making the gesture. This is why a certain type of big theatrical proposal is so effective (too effective actually).
However that risk is far harder to take than we realize when discussing it intellectually. For many of us we never really try – at anything. Our relationships, our hobbies, our job, our dreams, our passions – better to dial it in and have a safe space where you can still dream about making it if, if only we had just…tried. But this is the path of the timid deer, not of a human being. To live dangerously, to actually try until there is no “IF” only success or failure, that is the path to fulfillment, to meaning, to greatness…and likely to much suffering as well – but this cannot be an excuse. To live is to suffer, so suffer in service of your own greatness.