An Upside To Risk
Is ‘absolutely’ fabulous? According to The Pet Shop Boys, it is:
There are many ways in which ‘absolute’ is anything but fabulous. As a novice, you might have had absolute faith in absolute rules – this is what people are meant to do – and absolute confidence in your ability to follow those rules. And then you realise that the real world is much messier; rules are replaced by skills and normative standards (the spirit) replace the ‘letter of the law’. Absolute often becomes relative, with a ‘black and white’ view replaced by the colours of the rainbow. Learning and changing becomes matters for continual and dynamic balancing, not adherence to blinkered absolutes.
Think of the words usually associated with risk taking or risk takers. These words are probably, and overwhelmingly, negative – stupid, senseless, crazy, immature, thoughtless, idiotic or insane. Risk takers are commonly seen as idiots. Of course, there is an element of truth in these descriptions, particularly when risks are simply taken without being managed. You could be excused for having an absolute position on risk taking in daily pursuits – it’s bad and always to be avoided. Wouldn’t life be absolutely fabulous without risks and risk taking?
The answer is ‘No’, for you can’t adopt an absolute position on risk taking. It can be relatively dangerous (with ‘danger’ being defined in many different ways) but rarely in day to day life is it absolutely wrong. Think of the other side of the risk taking ‘coin’ – have you ever heard of risk taking being described as effective, positive or adaptive? For managed risk taking can and should fit these alternative descriptions.
Experiential learning and behavioural change are traditionally viewed as methods to reduce or eliminate risks. In contrast, ‘tis nobler conceives of experiential learning and behavioural change as methods to better enable self-management of risk, regardless of the type or level of risk.
Risk taking for the sake of taking risks is either unproductive or destructive. Risk taking for the sake of learning and/or change can be managed. It is essential to remember the big difference:
There is a big difference between the (self-) management of risk and risky behaviour. Risky behaviour occurs when you pretend risk is absent, when you underestimate risk, when you are unaware of the consequences of risk, when you don’t reckon it is a problem for you.
Managing risk successfully can be exhilarating, can be fantastic, and can really make you come alive. But you don’t manage risk just by saying that you’re going to be careful or you’re going to pay attention. Successful management of risk involves effort; effortful practice, effortful preparation, effortful planning and real engagement, being ‘switched on’ rather than disconnected, being aware rather than oblivious. Even so, managing risk isn’t perfect and there will be consequences. Serious consequences – but you strive actively to minimise the chances of coming unstuck.
Striking the right risk taking balance as your learning journey unfolds is crucial – too little is boring and too much is, well, you know what ‘too much’ is. And ‘little and ‘too much’ are always relative terms, relative to you and the situation.
Managing risk by striking the right and relative balance can be absolutely fabulous!