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Pushed over the edge.

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

He stood there trembling at the edge of a 230-metre canyon; the oversize harness feels unfriendly as rough edges of the leg loops scratch his tender skin. Things look different from here. When his friends told him about this spectacular swing over a canyon, he pictured something different. Perhaps he should not have been so adamant about having this experience as his Christmas present. A loud "click" of the karabiner which attaches the rope to his harness brings the consequence of his brave intention a step closer.


The friendly instructor lets go of the rope, suddenly the weight of 200 metres of rope (shock chord) jerks his 12-year-old frame forward. He freezes, the rope relentlessly pulls him towards the gaping monster, … he thinks of death, and a new battle develops as he fights the tears.


"What an awesome view, just think how proud your parents will be, a few steps and you will fly like a bird”.


The irritation on the instructor's face doesn't match the invitation to levitate over the canyon. The battle against the monster intensifies suddenly as the "friendly" instructor pushes him forward. "You can do it, don't be a sissy, just look at all the other people waiting for a turn." The instructor and the gaping mouth of the monster blur as he succumbs to the pressure…a death-defying scream follows…a relieved and proud father smiles…the "jump master" ticks off another name.


Perhaps the "Adventure Industry" created another person with a fear of heights.


Life is an adventure, “One Life Live It”. The concept “Adventure” suggests a delicate balance between the ability of the participant and the level of risk involved. When we discover the unknown, we venture into uncertainty; to live is to venture forth. Some people think that this quest for peak or ultimate adventure experiences is born out of an urge to be noble and brave because of the predictable, linear lives we live.


When the ability of the person is perfectly matched with the difficulty (risk) of the challenge; we refer to peak experiences. In the event of the intensity (difficulty) of the activity outweighing the ability of the participant, we experience misadventure or disaster, which can lead to death. Adventure-related Experiential Learning (AEL) leverages the desire to be challenged and experience adventure by introducing the concept of “perceived” risk and elevate the experience into becoming a learning experience. When High Ropes courses were first introduced in the 1970’s by Project Adventure, the aim was to “Bring adventure home”. In other words, High Ropes Courses simulate the same experiences associated with rock climbing which is only accessible to those privileged enough to travel.


The media cleverly utilizes adventure as a powerful marketing tool. When faced with the real thing; what seemed so easy on television, suddenly becomes a nightmare, add group pressure or the fear of disappointing a father, results in an unwilling participant out of control bound for emotional trauma.


When a participant has no control over his/her level of involvement, there cannot be adventure (state of mind). Forced participation in a challenging activity may end with a safe participant (physically), but the emotional trauma will only be realized long after the experience. In this case, the participant experiences anxiety and fear. When these traumatic events are supressed Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) may follow. The little boy’s nightmare may manifest later in “having a fear of heights”, “anger problems”, “sleep disorders”, etc.


Paulo Coelho mentions in his book; The Pilgrimage, the human being is the only species which knows death is inevitable. What intrigues Coelho is the fact that human beings do not sit and wait to die. What drives us to keep on going, against the odds? Perhaps the urge to make a difference, to discover new things, to leave a legacy, to have a purpose. These characteristics are embedded in our genes which drive us into the future.


Life is a paradox; we first have to understand death before we can live. A better understanding of death will enhance our ability to live purposefully. Have you noticed how many people turn into motivational speakers after they have had a close encounter with death? They display a sudden urgency to live a meaningful life. They appear to realize that life is shorter than what they thought. Adventure experiences activate these triggers and when facilitated in a safe environment new insight will develop.


Therefore, adventure programmes can be a powerful medium to understanding life.


Imagine this… He stood there trembling at the edge of a 230-metre canyon; the oversize harness feels unfriendly as rough edges of the leg loops scratch his tender skin. “Things look different from here.” When his friends told him about this spectacular swing over a canyon, he did not expect it to be so high…scary. Perhaps he should not have been so adamant about having this experience as his Christmas present. A loud "click" of the karabiner which attaches the rope to his harness brings the consequence of his brave intention a step closer…this is real…


The friendly instructor lets go of the rope and suddenly the weight of 200 metres of rope (shock chord) jerks his 12-year-old frame forward. He freezes, the rope relentlessly pulls him towards the gaping monster, suddenly he thinks of death, and a new battle develops as he fights the tears…


The Instructor is a qualified AEL facilitator and he realises that the perceived level of risk is far too high for this brave young boy. "What an awesome view…, tell me Johnny, would you like to think about the jump…remember, this is your choice, you are in control. You can always come back tomorrow…


The "Adventure Industry" intentionally allowed Johnny to understand that he has the right to choose…this moment may transfer to similar situations later in life when he remembers that his opinion matters.


About the Author

Dr. Chris Heunis is a director at Team Building Institute in South Africa. Experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the professional training & coaching industry. Strong business development and professionally skilled in Executive Development, Training Delivery, Behavioural Change, Career Management, and Business Process Improvement. Especially interested in equipping business leaders and senior management to cope with ambiguity when dealing with virtual management of personnel. Self-awareness, trust, vulnerability, the ability to transport yourself mentally and communication skills form the bedrock of the digital skillset required for survival, stability and growth. Dr Chris Heunis is a passionate facilitator of team building and personal development.


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