Fences and Ambulances

As a (very amateur) rock climber, I appreciate the sentiment of this poem:


‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”*


Humans have laws, or “fences,” that protect us from “cliffs” like addiction, physical harm, and the collapse of nations. Sometimes we neglect our fences, and try to replace them with “ambulances.”

In my own state, the gambling industry is thriving. What’s also thriving, however, is the “ambulance” necessary when someone becomes addicted to gambling: addiction recovery services. More and more frequently, I see billboards asking a variation of the question, “When are you going to admit that you’re addicted to gambling?”

Wouldn’t teaching people about the Avoid Addictions Fence do more good than trying to help people jump off the Cliff of Gamble, and then inviting them to hop in the Addiction Recovery Ambulance?

Sometimes we like to flirt with precipices such as Just Once Won’t Hurt Ridge, or Everyone Else Is Doing It Canyon. Sometimes we even make fun of people who stay on the safe side of the fence!

A suggestion: try staying on the safe side of some basic fences. Like the Ten Commandments. If you’re religious, you should be keeping some form of these fences anyway. Not religious? That’s OK, you can still do things like not obsessing over your neighbor’s car or spouse, or respecting the wisdom of your parents.

Start with something you’re not doing that sounds easy to learn. Then try something a little harder.

We’re human—sooner or later we all trip or jump or roll over the side of a cliff. The occasional ambulance will always be necessary.

But, we’re human—we can learn from our mistakes. We can make sure that our need of an ambulance is the exception, not the rule.

I have enough faith in the human individual to think that anyone can learn, with time and effort, to stay on the right side of the fence.

(This beautiful shot of a fenced cliff was taken by Panoramia user freerider4life23, whose work can be found here.)

*The full edition of this poem has been attributed to Joseph Malins. If anyone knows more of its history, please comment!



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