Misadventure

There are things we prefer not to talk about. Or if we do talk about them, it is in ways calculated to soothe or obstruct the details. Asking someone whom we know the casual question “How are things!” seldom provokes anything approaching an expansive composition. Ask them instead, “What’s the news?” and you’ll get a very different response. Guaranteed. Maybe even one you hadn’t expected. Or worse, one you didn’t want to know. More often than not however the news can be compelling. Not because it is bizarre or absurd but because it is usually meaningful and personal. Getting people to talk about themselves rarely requires more than listening. But you need an introduction to the intelligence more vital than a stock blurb which long ago lost its depth or authenticity.

In the United Kingdom a death by misadventure, as recorded by coroners and on death certificates and associated documents, is one that is primarily attributed to an accident that occurred due to a risk that was taken voluntarily. In contrast, when a cause of death is listed as an accident rather than a misadventure, this implies no unreasonable willful risk. Misadventure is a legally defined manner of death: a way by which an actual cause of death (trauma, exposure, etc.) was allowed to occur. For example, a death caused by an illicit drug overdose may be ruled a death by misadventure, as the user took the risk of drug usage voluntarily. Misadventure is a form of unnatural death, a category that also includes accidental death, suicide, and homicide.

In the vernacular misadventure has a less legalistic connotation.  It may simply mean bad luck, or an experience with a bad result. A misfortune or mishap; but infrequently a term of art. Amos Bronson Alcott characterized the offence differently. He not only addressed the circumstance as it was but championed the bad luck to profit. He said, “Our bravest and best lessons are not learned through success, but through misadventure.

Amos Bronson Alcott
Born in 1799 to an illiterate flax farmer in Wolcott, Connecticut, Amos Bronson Alcott was singular among the Transcendentalists in his unassailable optimism and the extent of his self-education. With the encouragement of his spirited and resourceful mother, he taught himself to read and write by forming letters in charcoal on the kitchen floorboards. Profoundly influenced by John Bunyan’s book, Pilgrim’s Progress,Bronson left home at the age of seventeen to become a peddler in Virginia and the Carolinas. Through the sheer force of his personality, he charmed prosperous Southern families into opening their doors, and thus was introduced to an aesthetic and elegance that inspired him for the rest of his life. After five years, he returned to Connecticut, determined to become an educator. Attracted to Pestalozzi’s innovative child-centered educational ideas, he soon began a long and varied career as a teacher.

Like most I suspect you long ago learned Alcott’s adage about misadventure. Yet few of us fully embrace the nutrition of this sometimes distasteful inoculation. How often do we dare share our misadventure – whatever it may be – with another? I know I shall never convince my dearest reader of the strength or utility of misadventure other possibly than by a standard retail plug. To be blunt, misadventure sells! Not only does it awaken the most disinterested audience, it sustains their attention.  Nor should it be otherwise.  Let’s face it, we’ve all heard the customary rubbish about one’s terrific health and the weather or how hot it will be today (as if you didn’t already know). But introduce some news and everything changes.

And if for no reason other than the well-being of your neighbours, give them something worth listening to. Smarten up your day with some psychology and entertainment combined. Make it worth the price of admission!