Take chances: Risk is life

Feb 242011
Authors: Michael Bettis

Twenty years ago today, I was young, invincible and flying combat missions in Iraq while my friend since the fourth grade, Dave, was going to college. Today I’m in college and Dave is on his fourth deployment to Iraq since 2003. This odd role reversal has me reflecting on the changes in modern life
that both aid and challenge you, my classmates, in your future.

The Internet and other advances in computer-mediated communication (CMC) astound when viewed over this time period. We live in a world that is connected now like never before but is still divided by countless barriers. Dave is fighting a war caused by those barriers but is able to Skype for free with his family routinely; four collect calls home from Iraq in eight months cost me more than $1200 in 1990.

This change alone –– communication of nearly anything, anywhere –– is affecting the world in good and bad ways. Along with altruistic global connectedness and democratic revolution, we acknowledge negative outcomes like distracted drivers killing bicyclists. Our troops have better technology now (my GPS barely worked), but that doesn’t keep errors from resulting in unnecessary death.

Yours is declared the most globally aware and connected generation ever. You are more ecologically conscious and your social communities are digital. Digital natives may be the best hope to breach socio-economic, racial, ethnic and religious logjams that have lasted centuries. Do not delude yourselves. CMC is a tool, not a panacea.

Many studies now argue that the Internet is increasing fractionalization, pushing toward the extremes and we see less international news in total during broadcasts than we used to. We demand more protection by news organizations from graphic images and opinionated coverage, lambasting them for exploiting suffering and inflaming negative rhetoric.
My experiences in Iraq changed my outlook on life and taught me a few things I think you should apply. While the “Taste Death, Live Life” attitude of my 20s begat by those experiences eventually chilled, the real lessons have stayed with me.

Be prepared for anything

Be prepared for things to not work like you plan, for life to take you places and expose you to stuff you never imagined it would. Find differing viewpoints than your own and challenge your assumptions and values. Reading the Koran while in Saudi Arabia was revealing for me. Change is constant, so grow and learn new things in new ways. The most rigid among us cause the most sorrow.

Take chances. Risk is life

You don’t have to sky-dive or do 160 mph on your sport bike. Go on that date you might otherwise skip, join an altruistic organization with a lofty goal, push your boundaries. Find people you do not know to follow on Twitter and Facebook. Invest in micro-loans, learn even a little bit of a few languages and appreciate other cultures. Get a passport and get the hell out of the U.S. We have the lowest percentage of passports issued of any fully-developed Western country. Change that. Develop your own ideas of the world.
Things could always be worse*

I discovered this gem while burning human waste mixed with diesel and jet fuel in a 50-gallon drum in the middle of nowhere, Saudi Arabia. Until then, I rarely accentuated the positive, after that particular “shit” duty, I changed my tune. Appreciate where you are, what you have and those around you. Any situation can change, any job can be eliminated, any health problem can arise and any country can slip into dissention and violence if the people let it. Focus on what you can make better, and remind yourself that it could always be worse.

Whatever you do, please make sure we aren’t fighting in Iraq in another 20 years. Also, write to a member of our armed services, any branch, whether you know one personally or not. Say thanks and you hope they are home with their loved ones soon. I tell Dave that when I can, but not enough. Though I’ve been on the Internet, in one form or another, since 1983, my use of CMC is not as good as I think.

Chief Photographer Michael Bettis is a senior journalism major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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