Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

July 13, 2012

Harter: Risk comes with rewards, sometimes

Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — It feels great to hit a topspin lob.

When my tennis opponent rushed the net, I have tried a swooping topspin lob that barely rises over his outstretched racket and then falls quickly behind him, bouncing away. It looks and feels awesome to execute, even though nine times out of 10 it doesn't work. The ball is too low or sails out of bounds. Nevertheless, because it worked once, I'll probably try it again.

In the same way, I've occasionally written pieces for this paper that were apparently funny or thought-provoking, because people told me so. Thus, I keep trying, even though for all I know nine times out of 10 it doesn't work here, either.

Other persons I admire understand the odds better than I do. They play the percentages. They don't persist in unlikely strategies. That's why I lose at chess, for example. I try things, dumb things, partly out of curiosity. When a gambit works, I can exult. But just ask my brother: It rarely does work. And losing is no fun at all.

Just so we're clear, when it comes to things like personal finances or driving, I am exceedingly risk averse. I'm careful as mice, playing it safe. Perhaps it is because I'm so cautious at life that I let loose when I play, when I'm liberated and unshackled by responsibility. It simply pops into my head to try something, and since the point is to have fun, I'll give it a try.

My father took his competition seriously Ñ at tennis, handball, golf, it didn't matter Ñ such that he expressed dismay at my seemingly cavalier attitude toward winning. ÒGet low,Ó he would say. ÒBe tough.Ó I remember after one lame outing on the tennis court, when my doubles partner and I were so out of sync all we could do was laugh, my father said for all the world to hear as we walked off the court, ÒJust stay downwind from me.Ó

Perhaps that is part of the reason I loved to run the streets. I could go fast or slow, left or right, near or far. Nobody stood watch. Nobody was trying to vanquish anyone else. I was able to save my competitive streak for racesÉand marriage and my career. As I was running, however, it just felt good.

Humor often works the same way. Around good friends, I indulge in silly jokes, and if what I say doesn't elicit laughter immediately, I'll just keep bubbling along, hoping to say something funny before I'm done. Much of it is low-brow, broad, nonsensical. I just never developed a hard wit, lying in wait for just the right wisecrack or clever bon mots. Most people rarely saw that silly side of me because the risk averse, uptight professional in me played it cool in public, with reserve and dignity.

Some risks are worth taking. Some are not. I have little respect for those who cannot tell the difference. You and I might disagree where to draw the line, of course, yet I never quite understood the character who can't discipline himself or herself at all, just as I don't understand the character who seems unable to cut loose once in a while.

There are days you just have to rip a topspin lob and live with the consequences. When it works, by golly, you will feel like a champ. And it just might be that the more you try them, the better you get.

Before the week is done, then, why don't you take a chance on something? Ask somebody on a date. Write a letter to the editor. Buy a bowtie. Or just go for a run, without knowing ahead of time where your feet will take you.