Risky Business

Let’s face it.  Life is risky.  No buts about it – everything we do has an element of risk.  Sure, channel surfing on the couch is less risky  than actually jumping on a surf board in an actual ocean – or is it?  We’ll come back to this point but first let’s dig a little deeper into what risk is:

Everybody’s favourite encyclopedia defines risk as: the potential of loss (an undesirable outcome, however not necessarily so) resulting from a given action, activity and/or inaction. “Wait a minute… Only the potential for loss? What about all those famous quotes?

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” – Ben Franklin

“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt (and apparently the Lulu Lemon bag designer…)

 “The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” – Albert Einstein

 “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Looks like there is more to risk than just loss!  Let’s move to the concept of risk assessment – back to Wikipedia:

Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat (also called hazard). Quantitative risk assessment requires calculations of two components of risk (R):, the magnitude of the potential loss (L), and the probability (p) that the loss will occur.

cliffWow!  This risk business is more tricky than I thought, but I still think there is more involved than just the concept of what can be lost.  The above definition includes “value of risk” but then the equation is only (R) = (L)(p) – what about the potential gains?  Let’s try to find some context here by using an example from my summer holidays. Each year when my family hits Jasper National Park, we invariably end up at Horseshoe Lake flinging ourselves off of the cliffs into the crystal clear (and #frickinfreezing) waters.  If I use the formula for risk assessment it looks something like this:

RISK equals:

(L: fractures, contusions, water in places you don’t want water, death)

multiplied by

(p: chance of this happening based on height of cliff, skill, weather etc.)

Hmmm. I get it – bad things can happen.  But, what about factoring in the sheer joy of momentary flight?  The confidence boost of overcoming your fears?  The competence attained in managing your body in the air? I think TRUE risk assessment should also include the potential for GAIN as well as LOSS.  I’d like to propose a new formula:

R =    GAIN (M)(p)            multiplied by             EARNED COMPETENCE (S)(E)                LOSS (M)(p)

Essentially, both gain and loss are factored by multiplying the magnitude (M) by the probability (p); then gain is divided by loss and multiplied by EARNED COMPETENCE which is factored from skill (S) multiplied by experience (E) – easy right?  To redo my cliff jumping scenario (specifically my son asking to do a 45’ jump) after factoring in the potential for loss (people hurt themselves jumping every year), the potential gain (overcoming a fear of heights, gained competence) and, multiplying these by his previous experiences (diving board, previous cliff jumps) and skill level (tramp and tumbling skills, swimming level, balance) I whole heartedly gave my approval!  More importantly, I hope that I am teaching my kids to properly assess risk themselves – and not only for physical activity.

An article in wholeliving.com on the importance of taking risks states:

When we think of risk, images of hang gliding and rock climbing may come to mind — activities in which one false move can mean death of the most dramatic kind. But risk doesn’t need to involve danger; it need involve only uncertainty. Kruger defines it as “activities with uncertain outcomes” — and they aren’t necessarily bad. “There are possible positive outcomes to risks as well,” he says. “Otherwise, why would we take them?” (Daniel Kruger is a Psychologist)

Good point Dr. Dan!  Michael Ungar, author of the book Too Safe for Their Own Good (now on my Fall reading list), makes this comment on psychologytoday.com:

In psychological terms, we’ve known for a century that children who are pushed slightly beyond their comfort zone and given opportunities to fail in ways that won’t have long-term consequences, are children who do much better in life. But, as their caregivers, we need to give children opportunities to encounter danger and learn the rules for survival. A child who has never rode a scooter on a quiet street is a child ill-prepared for driving a car, much less walking to school and crossing a busy intersection. The risk-takers advantage is something we are psychologically and biologically driven to experience for ourselves. Far better to take risks when the danger is small and we are supervised than when we are older and unsupervised.

Did you catch that?  Opportunities to encounter danger.  Of course there are caveats (love that word) such as appropriate levels, supervision etc.  That is where my incredible formula comes in!  If, however, we never provide those opportunities for our children – how will they ever develop the ability to properly assess risk?  I once heard a speaker at a parenting session talk about raising strong kids rather than safe kids.  In his mind, if you taught your kids to be strong – you got “safe” thrown in as a bonus.  This may have been the same speaker who always told his own kids to “Be Aware” rather than “Be Careful”.  Subtle difference.  “Be Aware” implies risk assessment and confidence.  “Be Careful” implies avoidance and fear. Assess the loss.  Assess the gain.  Assess yourself (earned competence). Decide.

So.  Back to channel surfing vs. actual surfing.  A recent study on surfing injuries found that there were 6.6 significant injuries per 1000 hours (less than 1%).  Sedentary behaviour like channel surfing can lead to: an increase in triglycerides, decreases in ‘good’cholesterol levels, increased risk of obesity (24% per 2hrs/day of TV in adults), increased risk of chronic diseases (20% diabetes per 2hrs/day of TV) – just to name a few.  Hmmm…

As a parent, this is a pretty easy risk analysis – keep in mind that Canadian children and youth average 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time a day.  As an adult, this is also a pretty easy risk analysis – even using my formula!

Surf’s up!IMG_4255