Our Fascination with Risk…..

We the people love risk. Our blessed existence in a free country, where we can make decisions relative to everyday living with little interference from government is an excellent example of the proverbial, two edged sword. I tend to associate with folks who I would describe as excitement junkies, folks who enjoy being in motion. Many years ago, author John A. Shedd, wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This adage applies to many things in everyday life. Our challenge today, in a country that thrives on excitement, is to balance risk and reward. The legal profession and insurance industry both seek to mitigate the impact of risk with words, such as a warning to not place your hand in a blender and turn it on. Words may help but personal accountability is the single biggest piece of the mitigation equation. Let’s talk about it.

Risk is everywhere. We all understand that quietly sitting in your favorite chair, sipping a cup of coffee while reading some bloggers musings, carries little risk. On the other hand, placing one’s body in motion, whether it be driving across town to shop, or powering a bass boat up a narrow arm of Truman lake, increases the risk. Issac Newton, a genius from another era, determined that a mass (human being) in motion requires energy to move it and the dissipation of energy to stop it. Human beings tend to come apart if too much speed is involved in either acceleration or deceleration. It is really pretty simple. So, what does this mean?

Insurance actuaries make a very good living assigning a monetary value to risk. They study human activity and through careful analysis of outcomes in various scenarios, arrive at a reasonable premium to charge folks engaged in these activities. I ride a motorcycle, and was surprised with a hefty premium increase last year as a result of the stupidity, bad luck and carelessness of other riders in my region who, by any account, have had a bad year on our roads. Piloting a light airplane is viewed as having approximately the same risk factor as the motorcycle, and it cost more to insure my life when I fly. (The pool of insurers willing to offer a life policy on general aviation pilots is very small, and the premiums high.) Perhaps the single biggest risk that I have ever taken was on a snowmobile ride in the mountains in Colorado where our young trail guide led us on a virtual race down narrow trails at breakneck speeds. The thought of being lost and freezing to death prompted my decision to “keep up”. It was exhilarating and plain, damned dangerous.

Warnings are everywhere. Because of the clumsy, distracted effort of a motorist accepting a cup of hot coffee at a McDonalds, we are now warned the coffee is hot and may burn you. I recently purchased a very nice folding knife and noted a warning the knife could cut you resulting in serious injury or death if not used carefully. We bought a small gas grill to travel with in our RV and the box contained a number of warnings that indicated the grill would be hot and possibly burn you if you touched it while in use. There are an unbelievable number of warnings in the owners manual of our pick-up truck that would lead you to believe your chances of survival if you actually drove the thing were not good. There are warnings that suggest you should wash your hands after a restroom break, and the failure to do so could result in serious illness. There are warnings on hair dryers suggesting that use while sitting in a tub of water could be hazardous and warnings on paint cans to not ingest the paint. When a lawsuit is filed, the number and location of the warnings is the contested issue, not the sanity of someone painting his bathroom, and drinking the paint while standing in a tub of water, drying their hair.

I, like so many others, am crushed by the horror of the drownings in the recent duck boat tragedy in Branson, Mo. As a matter of fact, I have never ridden one of these things as I have never believed them to be safe, based on nothing more than intuition and years of boating experience. This same experience causes me to run like the devil for a safe haven when weather threatens on a lake. Risk is a part of any active lifestyle and signs, placards and warnings do not remove the requirement for personal accountability on the actor’s part.

Folks, if you are moving, there is risk. Personal accountability is the first step in guaranteeing a positive outcome when you are in motion! Have a good day and enjoy the reasonable degree of risk that suits you. For the most part, being in motion is a hoot, and damned sure beats the alternative.

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