On Sunday, Nik Wallenda took a 23-minute walk across a tight rope over a gorge near the Grand Canyon. You don’t do a thing like that when nobody’s watching, and roughly 13 million people tuned in to see whether Wallenda would plummet, and another 1.5 million streamed it on Discovery.com. (A paltry-by-contrast 2.7 million watched the season finale of Mad Men.)
Can you consider such an undertaking without a why? Wallenda made money from his stunt, yes. But he walked a two-inch-wide cable placed a quarter-mile over the earth, and in 30 MPH winds. The reality 13 million people found so compelling is that he could have died before their eyes.
Of course we watched. Because why would a man do such a thing?
It’s an especially tough question for anyone with a hearty aversion to risk, to those of us who calculate odds before choosing a route to the grocery store. Wallenda talked a lot about his faith and the notion that he’d be in a better place post-plummet, but what moved him to take those ginger steps in the sky is hard to grasp.
Would you buy that grit if you could? And would you even call it grit? That’s important. Maybe you’re constitutionally inclined to dub it recklessness. We can’t get that stuff to fly off the shelves—negative connotations, and anyway it’s everywhere. Call it courage and you’ve really got something.
The idea that someone has an impulse toward big moments—and makes them happen—is confounding and alluring. His heart must have thunked. His adrenalin load had to have been intoxicating. It’s hard not to envy the rush he surely felt when touching land again. What percentage of the 700,000+ Tweets about the event covered that aspect of it?
As amazing as Wallenda’s experience had to have been, it’s not enough to move most of us toward the actions that earn it.
Here, it’s another day with no need for a net—just sitting at my desk wondering whether to put a question mark at the end of that headline.
It’s a trivial detail, except that it isn’t. Are you more pulled to read an article that’s asking you about you? Probably. And every way that words can inspire you toward action is something those of us who write for a living think about every day.
We want to move you.
Sometimes we get to do it with a high-wire act. More often we work with the comfortable subtleties of lower-grade thrills—at ground level, and in air conditioning.
Today, maybe I’ll do it on the treadmill desk. Baby steps.