Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A yen for risk

I'm fascinated by the way people crave risk as much as they crave safety. Human nature demands this strange contra-diction.

On the one hand we want safety. We want a home, a job, friends and family, things that make us feel protected and secure, things that ward off the horrors and uncertainties of the outside world.

But at the same time we don't want to feel too staid and set in our ways, we want a bit of excitement in our lives, so we also want risk. We drink too much, eat too much, drive recklessly and take dangerous drugs, busily compromising the very same safety and security we're striving for the rest of the time.

Some people go farther. The reliable bank clerk and home-owner who also has a yen for rock climbing, sky diving, bungee jumping or surfing. Or even a fervent desire to work in war-torn countries where they face death every day. They can only take so much safety and security before they crave the exact opposite, something that is physically threatening but gets the adrenaline going like nothing else.

Personally I have a strong yearning for safety, and I steer away from risk. I'm a timid soul who seldom does anything riskier than exceeding the speed limit or standing on a cliff-edge.

If I feel any sense of risk in my life, it's only the vicarious danger oozing from the media, with its screaming headlines about cancer epidemics, plane crashes, multiple pile-ups and mass shootings.

I guess that's one reason we're all such avid news-consumers. It gives us that exhilarating whiff of looming peril that livens up our usually predictable existence. It persuades us we're taking constant risks when in fact we've never been safer.

But I think I'll pass on the bungee-jumping for now, if that's all right with you.

23 comments:

Bijoux said...

I've always been a risk averse person, except maybe in my late teens, early 20's. I actually don't like to even watch people doing crazy stunts on TV. No desire to see someone maim or kill themselves, I guess.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I quite like watching crazy stunts, but I do wonder at the performers' confidence (or foolishness?) in the face of such huge risks.

Helen Devries said...

I like safety...I find life throws quite enough risk my way without going out to look for it.

Ursula said...

Like Bijoux I am risk averse. However, I will, and have to, take calculated risks. The calculation being in favour of caution, a positive outcome. No nose broken. No indignity encountered.

My mother's brothers were hell raisers. They lived to tell the tale. Or keep shtumm about - depending on temperament.You can't take the search for adrenaline out of a man. Myself, and like your commentator, Helen Davies, I find life exciting enough as it is without adding to its risks voluntarily. But then: Who can hold it against those numbed by their daily grind to get their juices going some other way?

You know what, Nick: It pays to be an animal. They might not philosophize. Yet they are right bang on the money, by instinct: They only expend as much energy as is strictly necessary to keep themselves and their youngsters alive.

U

Nick said...

Helen: True, everyday life involves quite a few risks when you stop to think about it. Mostly quite minor risks though, there's not much that threatens sudden death or total catastrophe.

Ursula: I don't think the search for adrenaline is purely a male thing. There are plenty of women looking for a bit of excitement. But I guess what often stops them doing really dangerous things is not wanting to worry their spouses or children.

susie said...

I went to see Cirque du Soleil about six years ago, and couldn't even watch. My family made fun of me.

Sadly, I was right to be scared.

I get more dull and boring with age.

Liz Hinds said...

Aw me too! Give me safety every time!

John Gray said...

There is some research that risk taking is in fact " parasuicidal" in nature...
Something I remember from my spinal injury nursing days....

Nick said...

Susie: That's right, one of the aerial dancers was killed last year when she climbed a rope too quickly and it came out of its pulley. But tightrope walkers and trapeze artists are spectacular to watch.

Liz: I've seldom had the urge to do anything seriously risky. I'd quite like to try sky diving though....

Nick said...

John: But I wouldn't say things like sky diving are akin to a suicide attempt. The participants don't want to die, they just want a thrilling experience in the knowledge that death is highly unlikely.

Ursula said...

I agree with John. Some people do have a death wish. Possibly unknown to themselves. Dicing with probability. Even your own phrase, Nick, 'highly unlikely' gives it away. Highly unlikely but not completely, is it?

U

Rummuser said...

I take a risk every time I walk out of my front door. I also take a risk every time I take a shower. Other than these two major daily events, I am risk averse and am most comfortable on my recliner contemplating my navel.

Cheerful Monk said...

Nope, lazy and risk-adverse here. Having a great time reveling in my mediocrity.

Nick said...

Ursula: Highly unlikely means what it says. Lots of everyday activities involve the "highly unlikely" possibility of death but that doesn't stop us. Driving a car (or just being in one) for instance carries a risk of death or serious injury.

Nick said...

Ramana: Exactly. There are risks galore in daily activities - driving, crossing the road, flying, eating peanuts, icy pavements, unhygienic caf├ęs. But we assume it's worth taking the risk.

Jean: I wouldn't say your life was mediocre. Risk-averse maybe!

Wisewebwoman said...

I would need "risk" more completely defined. I've always taken risks, i.e. risk of others considering me a fool, risks of failure, risks, yes, even of success.

Without risking I wouldn't be where I am today. And not really "me". Just some sedated suburban hausfrau canning beans in her steel embellished kitchen, plotting her new tile floor. Not that there's anything wrong with that if that's what you want.

Not for me.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: Indeed, I've been trying to emphasise that everyday life contains plenty of risks already! And as you say, not just the car-driving type of risk but the emotional risks of possible failure, possible rejection etc.

What a wonderful image of a Stepford housewife!

Jenny Woolf said...

I sometimes wonder if people take up these risky things partly so they won't spend their time worrying about lesser things. The charge of adrenaline, feeling scared out of your wits, because you're about to jump out of a plane, must be more pleasant than worrying you've got cancer!

Nick said...

Jenny: Could be! I could see myself doing a bit of sky diving if I was told I had a terminal illness.

Grannymar said...

I am constantly reminded not to take risks, it makes for a very boring life at the moment. Yet if I take the risks, I may complicate the life of others! :(

Nick said...

Grannymar: I know, various things that make you a little fragile. You must feel frustrated sometimes that you can't frolic like a teenager!

Secret Agent Woman said...

There are actually different types of thrill seeking, so that drug users and skydivers and sex-in-public folks might not be inclined to another's sort of risk.

I don't personally enjoy taking many risks that put me in physical danger.

Nick said...

Agent: True, there are risks and risks. By and large, I try to avoid physical danger, but I do fancy the idea of sky diving. And I do some quite dangerous scrambling up mountainsides sometimes!