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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  1. Being thoughtful about risk may be one thing. Getting or buying a gun may be another. I think there can be emotions involved and people ignore risks to their own family by trying to handle the risks they find in other groups of people. I hope can explore some of this in your book.


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