Sunday Firesides: Is It Safer to Be Cautious Than Brave?

In the end, it is always safer to be cautious and play it safe than to take a risk. But by doing nothing at all, you are also taking risks as well. It’s not easy figuring out right from wrong in this world of ethical gray areas; but for some people who stammer over what they should do on every single decision (and their lives), these fire-side chats can help them make up their minds about whether or not they should change course now


The Semai, an indigenous tribe that live on the Malay Peninsula, may be the world’s most peaceful and conflict-free culture. According to anthropologists, they acquired a feeling of “learned helplessness” after surviving a century of predation by Malay pirates and slavers; since it didn’t seem feasible to fight back, they evolved a habit of escaping dangers and succumbing to control. 

The Semai continue to foster this outlook on life in their children, telling them that the world is full with dangerous forces that are beyond their control. Any debate, anger, or aggressiveness is muted, and learning to get along is valued, even if it means accepting out-of-line conduct. Competitive games are prohibited since they might lead to aggressiveness. Children are frequently taught one overarching principle when they are encouraged to be fearful: “It is safer to be cautious than daring.”

This may be defined as our own society’s motto. We are a group of individuals that are committed to decreasing risk. Risk, on the other hand, can seldom be eradicated; instead, it is typically increased when one set of dangers is reduced.

Never allowing children to wander alone, climb trees, or use tools, for example, may lessen the danger of their being kidnapped, fracturing a bone, or cutting off a finger. However, by putting these safeguards in place, you risk their never gaining self-reliance, physical confidence, or manual skill.

While the Semai successfully protect themselves from violence, they are more prone to despair.

It’s not a question of eliminating risks entirely; rather, it’s a matter of picking which ones you’re more comfortable doing, and determining if avoiding certain risks in the near term would result in bigger dangers in the long run. 

Never learning to act with an abundance of bravery mitigates some perils… but never learning to act with an abundance of prudence has its own set of risks.