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I’d like to preface this essay with a warning: While there are no bad ideas, there are definitely illegal and unethical ones. I’m not talking about those. In general, illegal and unethical ideas are often outlawed for good reasons and in general have proven their weight in society as ideas to avoid or challenge carefully. Thank you.

“Hold my beer,” says someone at the end of the bar. How many times has this ended in a successful attempt at anything except a beer brawl? Hard to say. But it does occur everywhere—at backyard barbecues and local watering holes alike. But where does such enthusiasm come from? There’s a phantom zone of good vibes out there, and it’s called the “What Could Go Wrong” mindset.

The “What Could Go Wrong” mindset thrives on considerably wide leaps of logic, enthusiasm, (occasionally) mind-altering substances, and the endless possibilities of “What could go RIGHT.”

Once upon a time, when science was still young, it was believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. It took scientists centuries to come around to the line of thinking that the world was as we now know it to be today: round, spherical, and part of a solar system circling the beautiful life-giving sun. Advancements in science, which would have taken trial and error, as well as a TON of “What Could Go Wrong” thinking would present positive results that would take centuries to be fully embraced by society. But eventually they would!

The “What Could Go Wrong” mindset is what gives the young crawling child the spirit to stand on two legs and take their first steps while “surfing” around a coffee table or from a couch to their favorite blanket. It gives young children the initiative to reach out and attempt to make friends, even if their hopes have been dashed in the past. The “What Could Go Wrong” mindset is the shove of the barrier between asking that girl to prom that you’ve been eyeing but have been afraid to talk to all year (and not asking her at all).

To that end, we live in a “What Could Go Wrong” society in many cases.

  • “Is it really that big of a deal to eat meat when all of my family is vegetarian?”
  • “Why shouldn’t I rebel against the patriarchy?”
  • “Just because I’m different doesn’t mean I deserve to be treated like ______. So what if I AM different? How does that make me less of a person than anyone else?”

These aren’t bad questions. They aren’t bad ideas. But they do lead to change. And change is one of the biggest factors that can come out of a “What Could Go Wrong” challenge. Now the downside is that with every “What Could Go Wrong” challenge, there are stakes. And in the case of the beer-holding pal, they may not be in the right state of mind to spell out the stakes to the beer-handing friend.

As an example: In a “Hold my Beer” moment, a friend of mine decided he was going to add fuel to his firepit that he had been listening to music and drinking near. Everyone else had gone to bed for the evening. There was a security camera on the back porch that recorded the incident. He grabbed a container of lighter fluid and sprayed an arch (which caught on fire nearly all the way up to the bottle). If it had gotten to the bottle in his hand, he would have been in the hospital with burns. The highest stakes were narrowly avoided. The video was proof of what could have happened.

In the three questions from earlier, the stakes are challenging the status quo. To take the first case in point, if your family is vegetarian, you would want to see if the reasoning behind it matches your own reasoning before breaking with the family. Or you would want to ask your parents or spouse (or boy/girlfriend) if there is wiggle room in their expectations.  You’ll want to ask yourself the right questions in a thoughtful way to get past whether it’s the right thing to do or not for you at that point in your life.

As a final thought, please be reminded that every invention started somewhere with someone saying “What If?” or “How about?”, or even maybe “What could go wrong?” Listen to your instincts, weigh the stakes, do the research, make the leap.

After all, What Could Go Wrong?

V. Buritsch

A freelancer, fiction writer, podcast listener, fantasy reader who sometimes remembers to write for herself on occasion. She has a BA in English and Management, and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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