I was driving home from the barn the other day when I saw a sign posted on a fence that read, “Potentially dangerous.” I have no idea what it was referring to. I could see nothing in the area that would warrant such a sign, but there it was, warning us of something.
It started me thinking about the word “potential”. It’s a good word. A word that I would put in the same basket as “hopeful”, “possible”, “maybe”, “could be.” The opposite of course would be words like “guaranteed”, “definite”, “absolute”, “forgone conclusion” or “done deal.” I prefer potential.
Webster defines potential as: “Existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality; expressing possibility.” I like that. Isn’t it nice to think of something as “expressing possibility?” I love the word “hope.” Don’t tell me “no” or “it can’t be done” or “it won’t happen.” I will cling to “hope” every time.
If we are listening to a doctor tell us the prognosis for a loved one or for ourselves, we don’t want to hear that the situation is without hope. We want to hear, even if it is a mere 10% chance, that a good outcome may prevail. Humans need hope.
Potential means that something or someone has the ability to become something more, something better than it already is. Your athletic child could potentially become a professional football player, tennis player or golf pro. If our scientists keep getting funded, they could potentially cure cancer one day. If I stick to my training, I have the potential of winning blue ribbons on my horse in a dressage show. So many wonderful ways to play with the word “potential”.
There is a negative side to the word. Things can get potentially worse, “potentially dangerous”, as the sign read. But that isn’t a guarantee. It may not. And sometimes, it means things could go either way, potentially good or potentially bad, like when a man asks out a woman for the first time. She could say “yes” (potentially good) or “no” (potentially bad). But remember that “good” and “bad” are our own judgements of situations. Maybe a “no” from this woman could lead him to the love of his life!
Here’s another wrench I’m going to throw into the discussion. When it comes to things like a doctor’s prognosis, if you are a believer, you know that God overrides all. A doctor gives you his best guess based on his knowledge and experience. God creates what we humans refer to as miracles, only because we have limited knowledge of what God is capable of. For God, miracles are everyday events. Doctors are human and therefore limited. God is all powerful. I choose to go with Him when it comes to such serious matters as my health.
Potential is a good word. It brings possibility with it. And for a brief while, you can see the outcome as positive, knowing that it could go either way, but nevertheless, believing in the good. Believing, that’s a topic for another day. :))