Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | December 12, 2010

On Accident

There are many stories of accidentally invented food: the potato chip was born when cook George Crum (yes, really his name!) tried to silence a persnickety customer who kept sending french fries back to the kitchen for being soggy; Popsicles were invented when Frank Epperson left a drink outside in the cold overnight; and ice cream cones were invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  But no food-vention has had as much success as Coke.  Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton was trying to make a cure for headaches.  He mixed together a bunch of ingredients—and don’t ask, because we don’t know; The recipe is still a closely guarded secret.  It only took eight years of being sold in a drug store before the drink was popular enough to be sold in bottles.  –From “Top Ten Accidental Inventions,”

The world would be a vastly different place if accidents were not a part of it.  Some accidents are revelations of truth; they may result in new products that enrich our lives.  What kind of world would it be without potato chips, ice cream, or Coca Cola (Diet Coke for me, thank you)?  Other accidents are tragic, and some may truly represent great losses to the world.  A single word is all that is needed to remind us of these tragic accidents: Titanic; Chernobyl; Bhopal; Challenger; Columbia.  The best that can come from these kinds of accidents is that we learn from them and correct our mistakes, if any.  Learning from accidents, and applying the lessons learned, helps us to manage risk better in the future, and also gives us a measure of comfort in knowing that if lives were lost, they were not given in vain.

Accidents are the result of risk-taking.  The risk may be minor.  Lying in bed at night has a certain risk—the ceiling might just fall on us rudely awakening us from our dreams of candy canes and sugar-plum fairies.  But lying in bed is a calculated risk that most of us willingly take each night.  On the other hand, there are risks of which the calculations run much less in our favor: skydiving; bungee jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge; trying to bring in a haul of fish on a commercial fishing boat on the Bering sea in 30-foot waves on a slippery deck of ice and fish guts—just to name a few.

Try as we might, however, it is not possible to eliminate all risk from life.  Neither is it desirable.  This country would have never been settled had Europeans not taken great personal risks to come here in search of improved lives.  Mankind would have never conquered the moon but for the extraordinary risk-taking of pioneer astronauts.  Even in the aftermath of setbacks such as the spacecraft launchpad fire that killed the first Apollo three-astronaut crew on the launchpad in 1967, America—humankind, actually—forged ahead to land the first men on the moon less than 2-½ years later.

Risk and reward are always on opposite ends of the scale, and should always be carefully weighed.  This one thing is certain, however: The only way forward for humanity as a whole, as well as for us to succeed and prosper as individuals, is for us to take risks.  We must accept risk to reap reward.

The human soul soars on the wings of risk.  Complacency, however, slowly kills the spirit and ultimately buries the soul.



  1. Guinness! I’ve often heard that stout was created by accident when the brewer burnt the barley but made the batch anyway. The happiest calamity in history!

    Oh, except for the fact that I stumbled across your blog quite by accident as well.


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