I have always known about the Law of Escalation. In my time talking about it, I’ve come to realize that it might not be a law at all. I have found precious few people who will admit to experiencing this in their lives. The Law, or Principle of Escalation states that any activity done more than three times requires a negative modification of its safety rating in order to be engaged in the fourth time.
This principle was demonstrated nearly every day of my childhood. We once sat in a sandbox with my brothers and a few friends. For some reason, probably because it was there and we hadn’t done it before, decided to start tossing a brick around the circle. A few rotations of that later, we started to choose a direction randomly. A few minutes later, we added diagonals to the options and not long after that, the speed increased. That is how a benign game of pass the brick, became a deadly game of think fast. It is also how my little sister ended up in the hospital getting stitches in her head, but that is a different story.
I was sledding once and that led to racing, which led to building a ramp, which led to seeing how far we could jump off the ramp. That led to trick jumping, which culminated in dodging sleds thrown at the participant while they were doing their trick. This ended with me taking a sled to the face from Norman Shaw while I was in the middle of what would surely be the greatest trick of the day. My face split like a ripe melon and my brother chased after me as I ran home. His concern was not that my face had a second mouth in it, but that I might tell mom.
On another day, we invented a game called kick the shoes off, where you loosened your laces and tried to kick your shoes off without touching them. I feel like I should pause here to remind people that the internet and video games had not yet been invented and we didn’t have a TV. That game became an accuracy challenge and later we used to stand up stuffed animals to see if we could knock them down. One day my brother escalated this to a “think fast” version and I got a boot to the face, breaking a couple of teeth. I ran to the bathroom to inspect the damage and stem the tide of blood from my mouth. My brother followed with the too common refrain of “shush, shush, don’t tell mom.”
I know it seems like I took a lot of the damage from these escalations but they were pretty spread out. I can’t remember a repetitive game that didn’t conform to this principle. We all knew it was happening but we never spoke of it. We all wondered where it would go and who would be the first to invent a reason they could leave without being called out. Otherwise, the games continued escalating until we got called for supper, got bored, or somebody got hurt.
My wife looks at me like I have two heads when I tell these stories. She has an excellent method of preventing events just such as these. I have to grudgingly admit that nobody has had an escalation related trip to the ER since she forced us to do it. Whenever an event that has any chance of danger or property damage starts to happen, she asks, “what happens next?” Seems simple doesn’t it? It works strangely well at getting us to acknowledge that what we are about to engage in will end poorly. It’s much harder to engage in that behavior when you’ve had to acknowledge it. Sometimes I long for the days of pass the brick, dart tag or blindfolded pinata. I guess it’s only fair since we have video games and TV these days.