Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go ~ T. S. Eliot
I want to get my motorcycle license, I told my closest friend one sunny afternoon. We had just gone for a hot hike and we were enjoying cold beer on a local patio. My soul sister looked at me, a glint of horror in her eyes, and said, “I know you know this but…”. She showed me photos on Facebook of her son’s friend in the hospital after a bad motorcycle accident. He’s now a paraplegic. But has a good attitude.
I did know this. As a nurse, and a former ER nurse, I’ve seen it all first hand. But I’ve also seen the pedestrians hit by a car, the skiers who wrapped themselves around a tree or collided mid-mountain, the vehicle collisions, the mountain biking mishaps and even hikers who fell or got lost and suffered from exposure. I can list potential accidents and mishaps all day long. I still want to get my motorcycle license.
My soul sister is a hiker. Born to be in the wilderness, she is most at home on a mountain. She comes alive on a trail and her soul sings when she summits the next peak. She prepares well, carries the proper equipment and just in case necessities. She lets me know when and where she’s going and I have her GPS position on my phone. But there is still risk. Technical failures, injury, cougars, and not the type you find at the pub on Friday nights. These risks she is willing to take.
There is inherent risk in everything. Period. Risk is as a part of life as breathing. We can’t escape it. So then why is some risk acceptable to some and not others? How do we assess risk and what risks we are willing to take?
According to the research the answer to this question is less logical and more emotional. Risk and risk tolerance is derived from an instinctive and intuitive reaction. We are not necessarily rational about risk. We don’t weigh the pros and cons and make a decision based on rational logic. We make decisions based on a gut reaction on what we feel. What feels right and worth it to us, risk versus perceived benefit. This is based on an individual’s frame of reference which has developed over the course of their life. This is referred to as the Risk Perception Gap, it is not a result of ignorance, but rather it’s a part of our hardwired ability to size up threats and assess the probability of something bad happening. Of course that something bad is subjective also.
The research indicates that men have a slightly higher risk tolerance than women. Age (the older we get, the less risky we are) and relationship status effects risk tolerance, especially if children are involved. The way I understood this is if you have a loved one, a partner, and especially children, you are more inclined to want to come home to them unharmed and in the same shape as you left. Therefore, your risk tolerance decreases. More specifically, research shows that individuals have varying degrees of risk tolerance across a spectrum of 5 domains of risk; financial, health and safety, recreation, ethical and social. There is a theory that at every point in our life we have an inherent risk propensity in each of the categories. And emotions influence our risk perception. Fear and anger play a large role in our assessment of risk. Fear amplifies risk, whereas anger instills confidence, although likely a false sense thereof.
Watching and observing how risk plays out in the “real” world can be a fascinating endeavour. We take risks every day, all day, whether we perceive them as risks or not. This awesome human in my life rides a very fast and powerful motorcycle, but flat out refuses to leave the house when the laundry machine is running. His reasoning is multi-faceted. For him, the risk of a flood is mitigated by his presence; and his lived experience has seen the hose pop off the washing machine causing water to erupt, uncontained, into the environment. The risk of a flood is an event that he has experienced before and one he feels he can easily, yet somewhat inconveniently, mitigate. He has never experienced an accident on his motorcycle; yet, he still considers risk and chooses to wear the appropriate gear, take a professional course to increase his knowledge and ride with caution. But we can’t prevent all untoward events from occurring.
Finding balance between risk and reward is my ultimate goal. I believe I am entering the Era of Balance in my life, as I am striving for this holy grail in all aspects of my life. The risk of injury, or worse, is balanced by the reward of an overwhelming feeling of freedom and flying. Of being one with the road and the surrounding environment. That is what riding a motorcycle means to me. I’ll take precautions to mitigate my risk, but it is ultimately a risk I’m willing to take. Just like the risks I have taken and continue to take with my heart. Risky, but the rewards are oh so sweet.
Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing ~Denis Waitley