How best to assess risk in our everyday life
The catastrophic ice cave accident in early July makes us all wonder—Why would an intelligent person venture into the cave? The scary signs that surround the cave are designed to remind visitors that there is serious danger inside. In this most recent fatality, there had been icefalls the day before the tragic accident. It makes us wonder---why do adults take potentially fatal risks?
How do adults conduct “risk analysis” in their every day lives? Daily, individuals take measured risks-- driving in a car, taking an airplane flight, playing a sport, going on a hike, or going for a swim. Anything can happen.
Some adults take on riskier activities—climbing Mt. Rainier, skydiving, or rock climbing. Then there are other risky behaviors including binge drinking, unprotected sex, riding a bike without a helmet, drinking while driving, smoking, not wearing a seat belt, racing cars, and so on.
Interestingly, researchers find that adults are more conservative with their loved ones than they are with themselves. It’s easy to be objective when you are considering a potential risk for a friend or family member. Of course, drinking while driving is a huge mistake. Naturally, riding a bicycle without a helmet is ill advised. Yet the same person may make a decision to do just the opposite of what they would recommend for others.
Some folks are overly optimistic. Perhaps they have been fortunate and have had few accidents in their lives. They may think, without really thinking about it, that bad things won’t happen to them. This can lead them into making a poor decision.
Other individuals are by nature impulsive—they act first and think later. Adolescents have packaged this trait. But then again, their brains are still developing while ours are fully matured. Impulsive adults are swayed by their momentary emotions to make a decision that they may later regret. These folks often struggle with the consequences of impulsive decision making throughout their lives.
Their more cautious counterparts can act impulsively too. They may become frustrated by their own careful temperament and throw their restraint to the winds.
Even steady individuals can be swayed by the actions of others. A skier at Mt. Baker watches another skier take off into the woods. All of a sudden, a risky course of action seems less so. Another hiker scrambles up a rock face to take a shortcut. Why not follow him? A friend has one more drink. Why not join her?
We are “pack animals” much like our close friends the canines. We are influenced by pack behavior, which can draw us into choices we might not make alone. And we are even more influenced by the actions of the alpha male or female. Remember the game “follow the leader”? Even middle-aged adults can join in with folly if the leader sets the stage. History is filled with evil deeds done by “followers” who might never initiate those same actions.
Here are a few important points to remember when conducting your own risk assessment.
Think with your head, not with your heart. There is a reason we have a brain other than to fill the space between our ears! Use it! Don’t make decisions that entail risk without really thinking about it. Consider your emotions but don’t let them rule your choices.
Take some time to make your decision. Delaying a potentially impulsive decision gives you time to consider the possible consequences of your action.
Don’t be overly influenced by others. This can be difficult. It takes maturity, courage and wisdom to take a different course than the group. Ask yourself first—Would I do this if I were here alone? This may help you look at your options more objectively.
Fear is not necessarily bad. It’s healthy to be afraid of things that are dangerous! Measuring the risks and benefits of our choices is a daily part of life. Don’t let fear rule your life, but have a healthy respect for things that are risky.
What do you think?