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Facing Angry Bears

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps.” — David Lloyd George

It sure sounds like good advice. One should not be too timid or play it too safe. Sometimes you need to take a chance but notice that it’s recommended only when it’s “indicated.” Therein lies the rub. How do you tell when it’s indicated? Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you; but you may want to double check to be sure the attack is imminent before you pursue hand to paw combat with the bear. If you detect angry bear breath, it’s likely indicated.

That clarifies the “indicated” part of the advice but what about the “Don’t be afraid” part? It’s not at all obvious why an absence of fear is either important or required. Suggesting that one should or can confront life’s angry bears without a good measure of fear and trepidation is absurd. Were David Lloyd George here today to discuss the point, a line from Rudyard Kipling would be apropos, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

That leaves only the issue of not being able to cross a chasm in two small steps. It sounds like one is being encouraged to leap and pray. That’s like jumping off a cliff and hoping you can fly. Maybe this is good advice but only if that angry bear is actually snapping at your heel. If not, you might take time to build a bridge, consider climbing down the cliff and back up the other side, or perhaps finding a trail around the chasm. Whether the cost of staying where you are is worth the risk of falling in is also likely worth a moment of careful contemplation. As Alexander Pope admonished, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

The conclusion is that the advice embedded in the quote is pithy but suspect. It implies that reluctance to take “a big step” reflects cowardice and maybe even a serious lack of character. Neither is true. George’s advice is certainly food for serious thought but should only be consumed with a large grain of salt.

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