As a child I rode my bicycle without a helmet or elbow pads. I would leave home on that same bicycle on summer mornings and not return until dinner, never once checking in by cell phone. It was fun – and acceptable – to jump on a trampoline, talk to strangers, climb trees far too flimsy to support my weight, play in the street, light fire crackers without adult supervision, to go all day without using hand sanitizer, and yes, it was fun to run with a sharp stick in my hand.
But today, everything has to be safe. Safety scissors, safety vests, safety glass, safety cones, safety seats, safety ladders. It’s all about safe drinking water, safe food, safe toys, safe surfing, safe sex, and safe schools: Most of these extremely good things, I admit, but sometimes safety can go too far.
I took my sons to the park a few days ago to enjoy a new playground installed by the city fathers, apparently with the help of a team of safety experts and a host of litigation-preventing-attorneys. Everything is right about this new playground and everything is wrong. There is no dirt, mud, or gravel at this playground. These dangers have been replaced by synthetic, rubbery surfaces to cushion falls.
Gone is the sharp-edged chain link fence, traded in for a short polymer-slotted wall. Even the equipment has changed. There are no monkey bars from which to hang upside down; no metal slides that grow hot enough in the summer sun to strip the hide from the back of your legs; no rocket-shaped-climby-thing, not even a seesaw. There were a few swings but you guessed it – they have safety belts – so for the most part, the new playground is just an overgrown baby bed. And I hear those aren’t as safe as they should be.
There was one piece of missing playground equipment that, for all my safety-raging, I am glad was removed: The merry-go-round, or as some call them, the round-a-bout. I haven’t been on one of these things since I was ten-years-old and with good reason. It is basically a circular, metal whirling dervish of death.
The game we played was simple, and dangerously unsafe. About a thousand pounds of elementary-aged children would climb aboard while an adult (or someone’s older brother) started spinning the thing with the G-force of a fighter jet. This resulted in half the kids immediately flying off or getting sucked beneath the thing, breaking arms and noses.
Those who remained stuck to the handlebars usually began to spew their lunches like shaken cola cans, and the one who didn’t get sick, suffer a compound fracture, or could walk the straightest line when the spinning stopped was naturally the winner. I never won and I have the scars to prove it.
The truth is no one ever wins on the round-a-bout, and we all have the scars to prove it. The round-a-bout I am speaking of is the always spinning cycle of human anger. The eye-for-an-eye, tit-for-tat rotation that leaves everyone flattened on the ground, barely holding on, or staggering about, dazed and broken.
Is there a way to stay safe and “win” this dangerous game? Jesus says there is: Don’t play the game at all. Jesus said it like this in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you remember that someone has something against you, go settle your differences quickly.” The solution, according to Jesus, was not to assault your enemies with a preemptive strike or to dig in further by strengthening your grip on the rails. The solution is early intervention by defusing anger and retaliation before it even gets started.
You see, before the first blow is ever struck, before a trigger is ever pulled, or before the revenge scheme is ever hatched, emotions have already been weaponized and the round-a-bout is already on its not-so-merry-go-round way. Jesus understood that the only way to stop accelerating anger was to graciously neutralize it as soon as possible. That’s the only real way to stay in the game.