“If we hole up, I wanna be somewhere familiar, I wanna know where the exits are, and I wanna be allowed to smoke. .... “ Ed in “Shaun of the Dead” 2004
My favourite heroic character in the rom zom com Shaun of the Dead is Shaun’s flatmate Ed.
There is something compelling about a character of such torpor who tracks the essentials so closely, and besides which he reminds me of other 21C sofa occupants I have known, loved and despaired of...
[Shaun walks into the living room and finds Ed sleeping on the sofa]
Shaun: D'you want anything from the shops?
[Ed responds with his eyes still closed]
Ed is so connected to sleeping on the couch and playing video games in
the flat (or drinking pints and playing arcade games at the pub) that he appears
to be deeply disconnected from the events around him – living the zombie hidden
within us all...
And yet Ed’s throw away comments reveal that all the time he appears to
be in a state of social hibernation he is closely reading his flatmates conversations
and appraising their motives. Not unlike
grandpa’s ability to feign sleep whilst collecting all the gossip from the
dementia caregivers ...his eyesight might be naff but his hearing is very acute
But what I want to think about is not how Ed reads what is going on around him, but rather how he decides on what he needs and what he wants.
Psychologists would have us understand that Ed’s need for “somewhere familiar” is because we are “wired to be risk adverse” -
Apparently being risk adverse was a genetically advantageous trait in the times of the smilodon and woolly mammoth
The downside of all this risk adverse coupling in the time of the smilodon is that when it comes to innovation and creativity and entrepreneurship in the 21st Century we feel more strongly about avoiding loss than seeking gain –
We are intimidated by uncertain or unfamiliar outcomes, we like systems, we like narrative, we like certainty, we like what we know, we like institutions, we like school.
So most of us live risk adverse versions of Ed’s pre-zombie attack life - subconsciously mumbling “The devil you know is better than the devil you don't.” interspersed with “make mine a Cornetto ... “
But a few of us don’t –
I have a friend and a mentor – an educational change maker - a verve filled woman whose life-story shows her to be a throwback - for she is a risk seeking individual – someone “prone to tilt” - someone who has never allowed institutional rules and “reasons why not” to determine her path ... someone who has catalysed a number of significant educational adventures in New Zealand....
I have been reading Chrissie Fernyhough's latest tilt – co-authoring The Road to Castle Hill a book about her adventures running a high country station at Castle Hill in the unforgiving landscapes of the South Island’s Canterbury Alps.
But it would be a mistake to imagine that the book is about a city dweller who has transformed herself into a high country farmer – this is a book about someone who is hungry to learn – and someone prepared to take risks – learning and risk taking seem to go together
It all makes me wonder – can we learn to be less risk adverse? – is being
risk adverse a modifiable trait?
Or is it our genetic destiny to proclaim “I wanna be somewhere familiar, I wanna know where the exits are, and I wanna be allowed to smoke. ....”
And just what does our tendency to being risk adverse cost the 21 Century learner?