Is a Life with Less Risk Better?

I am a risk-averse person. When a friend from high school told me he was thinking of leaving his secure job with an established software company to join a startup, I thought it was too risky. He had a young family to worry about and the startup’s business model was terrible. Why would anyone wait to receive DVD movie rentals in the mail when they could get them right away at the many Blockbuster Video stores on their way to or from work? Cryptocurrency? No, thank you. Apple stock? Overpriced. I don’t drive fast, don’t ride my bike without a helmet, don’t jump out of planes or off cliffs, don’t like boats or ATVs, don’t drink to excess, don’t pick fights. Whenever possible, I try to limit my exposure to unnecessary risk.

At first glance, the following quote from sociologist and gun critic Jonathan Metzl would seem right up my alley:

Risk helps people identify the possibility of peril in their loved ones and is something that we all want to avoid in our own lives. Risk implies peril, hazard, and the possibility of loss. Risk, as anthropologist Lochlann Jain puts it, is a form of American autobiography—inasmuch as it reveals a great deal about our relationships with cars, machines, and other objects and technologies. As a doctor or as a researcher, I believe that a life with less risk is a life that is often longer, happier, and more secure. Risk is something that we should want to study, identify, and, ultimately, prevent.

Jonathan Metzl, Dying of Whiteness, p. 50

But is a life with less risk always better? Last fall, I got on an airplane in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and flew to Paris, stayed in a public hotel, and worked for 10 days in a doorless, windowless basement room with 30+ other people. All risky behaviors, but worth it because I was able to check off a bucket list goal of stringing at Roland Garros with my son.

This summer I am hoping to drive from North Carolina to California and back, stopping to truck camp at several National Parks along the way. Risky behavior in a number of ways, but the experiences with my wife will be worth it.

Life is not about eliminating all risks, but about being thoughtful risk analysts for our own lives. As noted previously, “Risk is our currency and we get to choose where we spend it.”

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3 thoughts on “Is a Life with Less Risk Better?

  1. Hi David. If the trip materializes, feel free to stop by for a day or two if Santa Fe is along the route. I’ll even pick up a bottle of your favorite whiskey!

    As far as risk? Dr. Metzl forgets the other side of the risk coin: benefit. Would I stop riding my bike to the Santa Fe Ski Basin because there is some risk in the descent? Would I give up cross country skiing for fear of destroying an ankle? OTOH, I never tried hard drugs after hearing my mom’s story about her brother, who went down the hard drug power dive but fortunately pulled out before altitude zero. Too unpredictable an outcome and I saw little benefit over hooch or, back in my misspent youth, a little Rio Arriba Ditch Weed. I hunted deer but unlike Greg Lemond, put a stout hemlock tree behind me and was head do toe in blaze orange. I loved my relatives, but they were carrying shotguns too.

    Lotta things I do different now but risk is a part of life that cannot be avoided. One has to make sure the risks are worth it and mitigate the risks as well (having worked 16 years in a Feddle Gummint nuclear facility, I can prattle on all day on risk mitigation). Unlike my misspent youth, I no long ride the motorcycle to bars and count on God getting me home when my BAC rings the World Class bell. I check the chamber and that the magazine is out before cleaning the pistol. If I am upset, I just take a long walk with the dog. Etc.

    It depends.


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