The cold water reflex

water drop smallAll mammals exhibit a cold water reflex. When our faces hit cold water our heart rate slows down, and if we become submerged the blood to our extremities gets reduced, protecting the core temperature and reducing the oxygen demand. Some evidence might suggest that this is more prominent in humans than in our ape relatives, and proponents of the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH) point to this as one of the possible sources of evidence for some form of aquatic past for human species.

But that’s not the cold water reflex I’m writing about here. Some humans exhibit a different type of reflex. When they hear a new idea, or see someone excited by the blue sky potential of something different, they have an uncontrollable urge to pour cold water on it. I’ve come across this very many times in my work as an education innovator in universities, but it isn’t confined there. It doesn’t seem to be solely a function of someone’s job either, although that can have an influence. If you have responsibility for a budget then clearly you’ll feel that you have to take that responsibility seriously and not take unreasonable risks. But that doesn’t mean pouring cold water on ideas.

My background in risk has helped me to understand this tendency, or at least recognise some of the worldviews held by people who exhibit this reflex. It seems to come partly from a view that change is dangerous; that the world is basically a risky place, and that the “safest” way to proceed is to try to keep a check on change, or at least attempt to control it in some way. But this is futile. The world IS change. Growth and life are pure change, nothing else.  And, trying to control change is not even the safest way to proceed. Just because something feels safe, it doesn’t mean that it is. We tend to feel safest with things that are most familiar to us, but statistically they can be the most dangerous. Homes are the places we’re most likely to hurt ourselves; close friends and family are most likely to kill us. No, actually, not true. It’s even closer to home than that. We are most likely to kill ourselves. Worldwide, more people die from suicide than murder and war combined. Check it out if you don’t believe me.

As a writer, I guess my gripe is mainly about the difficulty in trying to sell new ideas to agents and publishers. This is a well-known phenomenon, and J.K.Rowling’s difficulties in getting the first Harry Potter book published are legend. Agents and publishers want to work with established authors as they know that they have an audience and that their books are therefore more likely to sell. So how do you become an established author? I’ve tried self-publishing (Watermark is self-published) but your work disappears in the millions of books available now.  Advertising effectively is very expensive; social networking ads just don’t work. So you can imagine my delight when I started to find publishers who are actively seeking out new authors, and looking for new ideas 🙂 I’m going to start making some contacts with them over the next few months, and my only hope is that they don’t have a bucket of cold water balanced on the metaphorical front door.

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