Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained*

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

It is interesting to note the skittishness that plagues a squirrel in its response to a delicious nut held out to it by a passerby. Operating at one and the same time within the squirrel is a dynamic thrust forward on its part to reach that nut, and a powerful impulse backward, evident in its quivering leg muscles, to escape the slightest indication of a threatening blow or attack on it, by something near at hand. The onlooker observes with interest how this combination of opposites works itself out. What will happen? Will the desire to eat and enjoy win out, or will the vehement intent to escape harm and avoid injury prevail? The poor squirrel is the victim of contrary forces at work within its high-strung system. Some say that fear of pain trumps anticipation of delight in animals.

This is an apt illustration of how temptation works within us, or on us. We are simultaneously stretched or pulled in two opposite directions by the fascinating impact of temptation on us. Is it more likely that we will ultimately disregard the danger or the penalty involved as a price too high to pay, or will we push forward toward what looms before us as a tempting reward? There is a gamble involved here, and we can only guess (and hope?) at the outcome. But, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. But of course there is the counter acknowledgment that nothing ventured, nothing lost.

An inveterate gambler leans toward “taking a chance”. Of course, if this is purely chance, with no semblance of skill or experience whatsoever at play in this exercise, the odds against success in attempting to do so loom large. But if there is a minute indication of gaining out of this exercise, (for instance, I have a history of success at this particular table, wheel or machine) the likelihood of gain rather than loss is increased, at least a bit. But lacking such background, the prospect of loss looms larger.

And yet, despite all these cautions about being venturesome, some people (probably more so than animals) relish the thrill of venturing into the unknown and even the dangerous. Some who do so admittedly bring a considerable amount of precaution into such activity. If it allows of “practice”, then they carefully anticipate the moves that promise to reduce the threats involved, including those designed to soften the impact of “failure” in such attempts.

While there is a personality trait facilitating the venture into the dangerous or the unknown terrains of life (the daredevil type of person), accompanied by the “thrill” experienced in doing so, there is also the “inventor” type personality that seeks to improve upon our standard ways of doing things. The rest of us benefit by the successes of some of these creative people who invent new and better ways of doing familiar things. The inventor type does not necessarily take chances in “tinkering” with alternatives. Rather, they resemble benefactors or “do-gooders” whose efforts often redound to the benefit of the rest of us. Alexander Graham Bell illustrates this type of person in laying the foundations for our modern phone system. The Wright Brothers showed remarkable tenacity in working on the primitive forerunner of the contemporary airplane. And the field of electronics in our own era has exploded with the geniuses of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who have provided us the smart phone and its facsimiles.

They all illustrate the wisdom of the adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we, as well as they, have been enriched by their venturesomeness. This is the “gain” won by the venture. Of course, there are likely more failures and fiascos resulting from these explorations into the unknown than there are successes, but the thrill or satisfaction experienced by the successful entrepreneur attracts our attention more than the failures.

Though these inventors, for such they are, need not only a venturesome spirit, they also need a steely resolve to endure multiple failures, often experienced by themselves alone in the privacy of their basements. Christopher Columbus and his crews on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were true adventurers as they headed out across the Atlantic ocean, unsure as to their destination and their resources to gain it. Those of us who currently live in that part of the world that they “discovered” do indeed live in a “new world” that has proven highly adventurous in endowing the world at large with a flood of creative ideas that have proven extremely beneficial to scores of generations. It is likely that some of this creative spirit that drove Columbus and his companions has proven contagious across the ages and “infected” many of us with the same drive embodied in the exclamation EXCELSIOR.

*(Benjamin Franklin, author of Poor Richard’s Almanac)

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Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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