This morning I read about the Danish family that was hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean (four adults, three children). It is one thing when adults make choices that put them in danger, but when those choices involve children it is unsettling. Not that it makes the pirates any more despicable. The pirates should all be killed anyway; piracy is only heroic and romantic in movies and novels. But what about people who make choices that put their children in danger (such as those Danish parents)?
There has been much discussion and research about why people take risks. Researchers have discovered a genetic component, a gene that contributes to risk-taking behaviour. I suppose that is what contributes to my enjoyment of driving fast on twisty roads, and my son’s love of climbing. Environment tempers how far those risks will go. When we are younger our family and culture will squash, guide, or encourage our risk-taking, by example and by word. Our intelligence and ability will also determine how far those risks go. Statistically, younger people are more apt to take risks than older people (though there are always exceptions). Hence, teenagers have more vehicle accidents than older drivers. If we live through those risky years, it is hoped we have the experience to balance risk versus safety. There are other theories on risk taking behavior, based on numerology, astrology, and various predictive systems. We all fall on a continuum between risk-seeking and risk-avoidance.
Risk is not a bad thing. It is a necessary part of growth . . . otherwise we would all still be crawling around. Everything we do, including getting out of bed in the morning, involves some element of risk. It is how we learn what we are capable of doing, and how we make life better for ourselves and others. Risk adds a dash of excitement into what might otherwise be a dull existence. It is why we travel, why we learn, why we love. The only people not taking risks are existing in a vegetative state.
Some experiences make us less apt to take risks. If we take a risk and get terribly hurt, or see someone else get hurt, we are apt to “pull-in” and take as few risks as possible. Some experiences, such as child molestation, destroy our boundaries, and we are not even aware we are taking risks. Our environment may teach us risky behavior is normal. Maybe the risky behavior over-rides the grief we feel; maybe it makes us feel more alive. We may take risks for a cause, or another person. There are thousands of choices we make each day, and all involve some element of risk.
An individual’s risky behavior is their own choice, and while it may sometimes grieve me, in all but extreme cases I do not feel compelled to interfere. Even with my son, I was constantly balancing letting him take chances and build his confidence, versus keeping him safe. However, when a person’s behavior affects non-consenting others, then I call it into question. For instance, the recent murder of four Americans by pirates angers me, but those four Americans were adults who had the right to make their own choices, to calculate their own risks. But with this Danish family, did their three children have the ability to make informed risk choices? I do not know details; maybe they did. A part of me thinks how cool it would have been to have parents who took me around the world on a sailboat — what an adventure! It sounds like the parents weighed their risks, and were doing everything (short of not making the trip) to make safe choices. But there is always an element of chance, and this time they got caught. In the final balance, the only people who could have prevented this crime are the pirates themselves.
These are just ponderings. Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I take it a step further and examine other lives, and then ponder what I may learn to benefit my own.
What do you think about risk?