Risk is human, I’m launching a new mobile application shortly… it’s my first one and I have noooo idea of what’s going to happen! I’m investing money in its creation… this is pure risk.
On the other hand, I play 10 pin bowling… I’m pretty average and know it but I’d like to improve my game and over the past couple of years have realized that I need to change my style… a lot! I have to get OUT of my comfort zone and I know my average is going to drop during the transition, before, hopefully; it gets better. I’m going to take that risk.
I’ve given you a couple of personal examples… not to talk about myself and my risks, but to point out that risk is human.
In the context of The Explanation there’s a chapter entitled ‘Singularity of Man’. What makes mankind stand out from all other things and beings and particularly animals on Earth? Is man singular? Well, one of the traits of man is his ability to take risks.
The humanity of man involves risk, notably risking one’s life. Animals are deprived of risk. Not being able to face risk is to live like an animal. So said Francois Ewald, a French philosopher, concluding: Risk is presented as a key value of all the values of man.
No animal will undertake making a ‘new tool’ something neither it nor its ancestors have already used. No animal will consider a totally different style of hunting down its prey. Yet man takes risks and invents new tools every day, You ought to see the variety of screwdrivers and wrenches man has come up with. Risking, inventing, doing until he comes up with the solution even if he fails. I believe it was Alexander Graham Bell who experimented a few hundred times before he invented the telephone. That’s sticking to it in spite of the risk.
The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all – doing nothing
That’s Benjamin Franklin, another scientist who took many risks not only there but in the political arena as well.
There are so many aspects associated with risk that we should take a second to think about a few of them.
Risk is a complex notion that is ever changing. There are two sides –
- A negative, where risk can lead to disaster. This, of course, needs to be anticipating, insofar as it can.
- A positive side when risk can lead to progress.
Considering both of these facets of risk and that we could go either way at anytime during our journey allows us to adopt either a too negative catastrophist approach or a too positive optimistic ‘success and glory are around the corner’ approach. We can though take a balanced outlook that risk is a driving-force for progress and innovation.
Let’s pick at what I’ve just written and dig out a few ‘side effects’ of risk: catastrophist approach, optimistic approach, balanced outlook, driving-force, progress, innovation. These are all cognitive characteristics. They are motivational traits that we all have more or less of. Animals have their characters and traits but they do not become driving forces of progress and innovation. Of and by themselves they don’t even progress and innovate.
I’ve said it elsewhere, I adore animals and what I’m writing is not a put-down… it just shows the singularity of man.
Risk is human: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Humans PUT themselves in fabricated ‘risk’ situations whether it be climbing mountains, bicycling along narrow lofty mountain ledges with no protection and a 1000 foot drop, doing double flips on skis and motorbikes, throwing knives at partners on a revolving target, taking hallucinogenic drugs, or announcing that the USA would send a man to the moon as President Kennedy did.
Risk Taking is Decision Making
Risk taking involves analyzing the situation as well as preparing for it. Before launching a mobile application, I need to get help from a specialist with experience in that domain, two elements I lack. Only after gathering all the facts can one know whether it’s advisable to go ahead with the project or not. Even when you can’t know all the facts, or the extent of the facts, like knowing the weather, you have to decide: do I go for the picnic or not, do I go sailing in this possibly stormy weather? Decision making is a singularity of man.
Faced with a risky decision, two people will not necessarily have the same outlook. Some are more cautious and satisfied with the emotions of the status quo, others need adrenaline—and are risk takers—Backing off or moving forward with going sailing is associated with our desire of or fear of unexpected or anticipated thrill. Some live for it, others shy away from it.
Putting others at Risk
Humans don’t live in isolation with regard to risk. Taking unhealthy risks while driving a car can be costly for society. Some 30 years ago near Bar-le-Duc towards the North East in France a driver took a risk and misjudged a bend ending up on a railway track where he got hit by a train that derailed and crashed through the railing into a canal below. There were injuries and upset and it is the most expensive car accident in French history at 2.7 million Euros.
Are we always aware, when we take a risk, of the impact on others? Getting an exotic pet, gambling risks can have dangerous consequences for family and other people, not only for the individual taking the risk.
These ‘social consequences’ of risky acts and their effect on others around us is not always something we think about until it is too late. This evaluation of financial, health and other eventualities is a singularity of man that has to be taken into consideration.
As with individuals, societal organizations, like governments, federations, schools, clubs … have to make courageous decisions that sometimes go against the tide. If they want to make progress in domains like climate control, then they have to take calculated risks regarding nuclear power and energy alternatives. How audacious will society be in addressing this never seen before dilemma? How far is one ready to go, including a readiness to lose certain battles but taking the risks necessary to solve the problems?
To move forward, whoever is involved has to make decisions, even risky ones, the status quo doesn’t change anything, isn’t progress. Maybe starting on a path, even knowing there are unknowns that will have to be faced along the way… that’s risk… is the best path of action.
Individually and collectively we live and function permanently with risk. Insurance companies focus on the mathematics and financial aspects, humans focus on the adrenaline and win/lose factors. The Explanation focuses on the why factor. Much is at stake, but this characteristic of ‘risk’ is ever-present and is one of man’s singularities.
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