Risk (Part 1/6)

[Read Part 1: Risk | Part 2: Risky Business | Part 3: Risk & Reality | Part 4: Risk & Politics | Risk, Reality, & Bullsh-t ]

Sometimes I think my life is ruled by synchronicity (think Koestler, not Sting).

First, Bill Whittle does his lyrical piece on “Courage“.

Then it turns out that Tenacious G and the boys haven’t seen the Branagh ‘Henry V‘, so we jump it to the head of the Netflix queue, and it shows up in the mail. We watched it the other night, and it was still wonderful (Yes, Bacchus, I’m still supporting Branagh’s erotic reward). My boys loved it as well; Littlest Guy, who is six, wanted to watch it again the next day, and spent the time after bath and before bed wandering the house in his blue PJ’s-with-rocket-ships-and-feet and a stern look, declaiming “No King of England if not King of France.” I love my sons and they are wonderful, but they are a bit…odd, sometimes. Somehow that line over all the others had caught him, and he and I had a long discussion in which I explained that Henry wanted to be King of France, and that he was willing to risk losing England to get it.

Then, as a part of a possible venture I may do with an old friend, we had a long ‘strategy’ talk, in which one issue that we tried to address is our differing appetite for risk; he’s been incredibly (deservedly) successful, and as a consequence has capital he wants to preserve, while I’m trying to get to the point of having some capital to worry about losing.

And I had one of my frequent “aha!” moments, and I realized that the issue of courage is really inseparable from the issue of risk, and that we have, I believe some issues with risk in this society, and I think that those issues are of vital importance today.

– They are important to our self-understanding as people;
– They are important to understanding what is happing to our economy;
– They are important to our politics;
– Many of the social issues we face in America today center around different understandings of risk;
– And finally, our struggles over decisions about Iraq have much to do with our differing perceptions and reactions to risk.

This is going to be longer than I have time to do all at once, and doubtless than you have the patience to read in one sitting, so I will be putting up a stream of posts over the next few days (I’ll try and do one a day).

Here’s the outline:

1. Introduction (this one);
2. Risk in Business;
3. Risk and Recklessness in Society;
4. Risk in Politics;
5. Iraq and Risk.
6. Wrapup (and hopefully response to interesting comments)

Let me open with some comments.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been someone with a high tolerance for risk.

I’ve taken professional risks.

I’ve taken risks in relationships.

I’ve participated in risky sports; rock- and mountain-climbing, sailboat ocean racing, motorcycle sport riding and racing.

But I work hard to manage the risks that I take. While I’ve had some (spectacular) professional failures, the downside has been for the most part managed. The people whose relationships I’ve become serious about have stuck with me. And in my hobbies, I’ve worked hard to embody the best techniques and use the best tools to ensure my safety.

As a good example, when I ride my motorcycle, I wear protective gear from Aerostich, Z Leathers, Boehn, Shoei, Daytona, and Held. I’ve been to the best training I can find. I’m conscious and methodical about the risks take, and about the exposure to damage that those risks imply.

My pursuit of martial arts…including the shooting arts and other weapons arts…is in no small part aimed at managing my risk.

So I think about risk quite a bit. I don’t see myself as foolish (think of a helmetless rider on a 160mph motorcycle wearing a t-short, shorts, and Vans sneakers), I think of myself who is conscious of risk and who tries hard to manage it to acceptable levels.

I can’t imagine not taking risks. Not only would I would have missed some of the best experiences of my life, but I can’t imagine looking at risks as ‘black or white’ rather that examining their subtleties and looking at them as objectively as I know how. To me, that is real safety. Ignoring risks, or shying away from them, isn’t.

What I see in many people is a simple shying away from risk. I see it ly, as people are unwilling to open themselves to relationships for fear of being hurt – and then soak in the pain of their loneliness. I see it in business where people in organizations won’t take the risk of speaking out, even when silence imposes greater long-term risks on their organization and so their job. I see it in people’s lives, as we increasingly try and mummy ourselves in increasing layers of padding designed to keep us from the sharp corners of the world.

I followed a van today; the signs on it explained that it was the ‘Babyproofing Man’. So we hire someone to put plastic caps on the sharp corners of our homes, and try and raise our children in cocoons where risk can be managed away.

It can’t be.

Our children are always at risk, and we can’t protect them everywhere and forever.

What we can do is to teach them to think clearly about risk, and learn to control it themselves.

There’s a telling little scene in the book and movie ‘Black Hawk Down’, in which one of the Delta operators at Mogadishu is dressed down by a regular Army NCO for not having ‘safed’ his weapon. The operator looks at the NCO and wags his index finger in his face.

“This is my safety.”

Consider this my finger wagging in your face, asking what you see as your safety.

…to be continued.

Part I is here
This is Part II
This is Part III
Parts IV > VI aren’t written yet.

10 thoughts on “Risk (Part 1/6)”

  1. Compadre, every word here speaks to and for me. I can’t wait to see the rest of this series.

    One tip from my past experience with blog series… at the end of each post, have a set of links that will take a visitor to the other posts in the series. Your best bet for that is to repeat this in every single post, and make them into links:

    1. Introduction (this one);
    2. Risk in Business;
    3. Risk and Recklessness in Society;
    4. Risk in Politics;
    5. Iraq and Risk.
    6. Wrapup (and hopefully response to interesting comments)

    It’s a bit of a pain, but it ensures that everything really hangs together well. People come in a month later, and they can scroll forward or backward through the series no problem. My readers have told me in the past that they appreciate it.

    Again, looking forward to your next bit.

  2. First off, I really enjoy all the work you folks put into this site. On the subject of risk, For some reason I was reminded of the following parenting maxim that I thought applied “Let your kids learn the hard lessons now, while the costs are low.” Don’t know where this fits into the scheme of things.

    The counterpoint to the example from Black Hawk Down: a. It’s not necessarily the operator’s safety that was in question, and b. given Delta’s elevated status, do they not have an obligation to acknowledge that the young soldiers are going to look to them and emulate their example, and furthermore, make sure they’re setting a good example?

    I’m not looking to argue, just discuss and think. Thanks.

  3. No argument taken! Personally, I’d have sided with the NCO as well; in my case simply because there’s no downside to doing the safe thing there.

    But the example did made my point for me, which is that our actions are what makes us safe.

    (Plus, having met one or two Delta types, correcting them is the last thing I’d be likely to do…)

    A.L.

  4. How true, I used to have a First Sergeant who had previously been with “The Guys”. He was the consummate professional and really an all around great guy. I went to work in terror every day(I was a lieutenant, the company XO).

    I guess maybe the point is there’s a difference between swagger and courage. Perhaps, by a degree of mental follow through? You can be brave and posess swagger, but to be brave with knowledge and understanding of the implications and consequences is to posess courage.

    Anyway keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

  5. Calculating risk is fine, but when it comes to the care and maintenance of an empire, history suggests the greatest risks are not outside forces whose aggression is visible and head-on.

    The greatest risks are the surreptitious ones that eat away at the center, till, sufficiently weakened, outside forces can divide and conquer the empty shell that’s left.

  6. I’d have to agree with Joe about that BHD scene. It was really an example of the way the Delta guys played by their own rules – one of the reasons that they were held in such esteem by the young, impressionable Rangers. (The “regular army NCO” was actually a Ranger officer – Captain Steele, I believe.)

    Your point comes through nonetheless.

  7. Mr. Armed Liberal, Very good article in general and it hits a theme I have noticed on my own. Americans are people who tend to do inherently risky things, like skydiving, racing motorcylces, riding bulls, waterski acrobatics etc. But they also build up a body of practice around the activity to make it possible to not only perform the activity more than once and live, but also to score it, compete in it, and make it almost a science. The combination of the derring to perform the action and the presence of mind to make a science of it makes the Americans an extremely dangerous adversary. I also completely agree with the sentiment that human competence and not some artificial machine or rule is what reduces risk.

    However, the Delta Trooper in the example you gave is flat wrong. In that situation the threat of a momentary attack was near zero. In fact the threat of him tripping and falling and causing a negligent discharge was greater than his need to have his weapon “off safe”. I have run some pretty hairy live fire exercises where the primary safety factory was the individual soldier looking though his sights before firing, but there was no legitimate reason for that man not to have his weapon on safe. His response should have been: “Yes, sir” and put the weapon on safe. If that exchange was real, then the Delta Force had a problem which I hope they have corrected. The Delta Soldier should have been reprimanded and possibly prosecuted or dropped from Delta for negligence, disrespect and insubordination.

    Patrick E. Walsh
    MAJ USA (RET)

  8. I’ve posted a few thoughts of my own (on safties)over on my site, that could be summed up as:

    I like to gamble in the same sense that casino operators do. When it’s a calculated risk and the odds are clearly in my favor.

    Loved that movie btw.

  9. I have run some pretty hairy live fire exercises where the primary safety factory was the individual soldier looking though his sights before firing, but there was no legitimate reason for that man not to have his weapon on safe. His response should have been

  10. just a little something,
    it was a captain from the Ranger Regiment dressing him down, and that nco was OUT OF LINE.

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