Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Intermittently-Risky Business

I suppose I would very loosely characterize risk (v.) as the act of opening oneself up to the possibility of loss, ideally in the pursuit of a goal. It is an important thing to be able to do! But in me, and probably in many people, the muscle for it has atrophied.

There is no way to eliminate risk from one's life. All of us are subject to chance events and cannot guard against all possible threats to our well-being. However, if one thing is true about the human species, it is that we are creatures capable of profound self-deception. Awareness of the inherent risks of living is something that can be willfully suppressed easily enough. Certain ways of life seem to involve little to no risk, and it may be true in one sense - negligible amounts of possible loss may be apparently involved in one or another venture - but the hidden risk wound up in decisions primarily made out of a desire for comfort and safety is enormous: it is the possibility for damage to be done to the human spirit. For serious.

I think it is a kind of violence to ourselves, to will to believe that it is possible and desirable to go about life without putting much on the line. And the more I practice that willed belief - the more I live and act out of it - the deeper the problem for me becomes. I don't want to believe that I do this even as I write about it! But there's not much that I would count as seriously risky in my past actions, especially in the last couple of months.

So I suppose the question is: how does a person get back into a healthy relationship with risk? Obviously not all risks are good ones, but the thing is, tons of them are good, and healthy to embrace. Some risks are even necessary to consciously accept - for example, the risk of utterly failing in front of an audience is a necessary one to take on for a person who desires to be a performer.

If there is a muscle for it, then maybe working it out will do the trick. And certainly another important aspect of changing an attitude towards risk would be a re-articulation of the constellation of goods involved in a given decision - a re-appraisal of the comparative value of different options, and a reconsideration of the things that lend those options their value. But who knows, really? Maybe at some point a person just gets forced into opening herself up to the possibility of greater losses than she is comfortable with, and when things turn out okay, she ends up with a new mindset. That would be pretty great. But to hope for that also seems rather passive, and passivity is part of the problem.

My brother is the one who has been provoking me to think about risk and my attitude towards it. Recently he got really angry about all the opportunities we (he and I) pass up because they're too risky. Here is a picture of him:

That expression pretty well sums up his outlook right now. May he inspire us all to take greater risks in the course of extraordinary pursuits. In fact, if you want to find me in the next couple of hours, just look for a lot of huge dangers. Wherever that place is, Jon will probably be there too, probably late.


  1. I know some turkeys who would like to take you up on that challenge.

  2. You make a good point. The pursuit of a "risk free" life (a delusion) results in a sure recipe for a damaged human spirit because we were created by God to do great (and risky) things for God!




    Ok, actually, I wrote about fear of failure, and you wrote about fear of risk. But those are sort of the same thing, right?