“But time will not permit: The world is uneven, And everything is left at six and seven.” William Shakespeare in Richard III
Chaucer earlier had it, “To set the world on six and seven.” Both of these phrases link to a reference to an early dice game called “Hazards” where the riskiest choice of a wager, but the biggest reward, comes from choosing to set your piece on six or seven. To hazard the world was to bet all you had and risk everything on one throw of the dice. It was to “bet your life or livelihood,” and usually this was on six or seven for the biggest possible return.
Ironically, “at sixes and sevens” has been dumbed down from betting it all to “feeling out of sorts” or at a loss. Perhaps in homage to the earlier concept, or maybe just to Groucho Marx and his television show from my early childhood, when my mother was cautioning me against a choice I was about to make, she would say, “Don’t bet your life on it.”
That was all she’d say, right to the point. My mom excelled at the art of the pithy phrase. And most times her advice would bring me up short and make me rethink what I was considering. My mom was a wise woman. She didn’t beat you over the head with her good advice, she just said it and let you come to your own conclusion. For me that was usually enough to give me room to change my mind without feeling like I had to justify my previous opinion or choice.
Sometimes, because she stopped with that one statement, I would be compelled to ask why she thought it. Then, and only then, she would expand on her reasons, and that was good because her approach didn’t make me defensive and I would consider her viewpoint. But the very best thing of all is that if I still went forward with my choice, my mom supported me and never said, “I told you so.” I have wished, more times than I can say, that I had her gifts.
All that said, sometimes, some of the time, we have to take risks and make hard choices, hopefully after considering the alternatives. Sometimes without a new direction or a complete change in course, taking a different job or moving to a new place, having a surgery to improve our quality of life, going back to school, or changing careers, we will miss the opportunity for life to have meaning, and that is the biggest risk of all. Missing that hazards our soul.
So if you are contemplating a hard choice, consider it carefully, (and I would say pray as well – your choice), but don’t be so afraid of risk you lose out on life. Or if you have already made a choice, wagering all, changing much, and are feeling “at sixes and sevens,” out of sorts with your new direction, take comfort, sixes and sevens were the riskiest choice, but also brought the greatest reward. Give yourself time to reap the benefits.
My mom would be proud of you.