Thoughts & Things

The biggest risk in life

October 14, 2020

A  vast majority of human beings generally prefer a  risk-free life. It is good to get an assurance of things to come.  We like an assured income, well laid out plans, warnings and predictable days.  However,  when we look back and introspect  our evolutionary journey , we realise that perhaps what brought us this far was not our penchant for predictability but our instinct for risk-taking. The very survival of mankind as a species depended on its ability to take risks and explore the unknown. There was no scope for any safe play or assured lunch. Either you fight or perish. Either you experiment or die. It was also a time when risk was shared almost equally. When the hunter-gatherer society moved to agriculture and later to an industrial society and a technological one ,  the nature of risk also underwent rapid changes. We started eliminating certain type of risks from our lives and replaced them with new ones.  One mark of affluence was how predictable are basic comforts in your life.  For most of the rich world,  a lot of such comforts are assured now.  On the other hand,  for the substantial number of poor,  daily life itself remain tied to all kinds of risks.  There are millions for whom the next meal itself is unpredictable.   

  The modern man is caught between these two pulls. On the one hand, he has his evolutionary impulses which guide him towards novelty and adventure.  On the other hand, he is also pulled to the comfort of a risk-free life . Our task is to balance both.  Because, though it is a good idea to eliminate certain types of insecurities in life such as that of food, shelter etc the idea of an ultimate predictability and zero risk in life is an illusion.  Life on this planet with all its vibrancy can be sustained only if there are sufficient number of people who are ready to embrace risks and bet on unpredictability. It is they who unleash creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of mankind to keep life dynamic.

The modern-day conditioning against risk has made so many people choose a   life of security. Nassim Nicholas  Taleb,  perhaps  one person who has enlightened  us most  about risk  in this era  tells, “  The  three  most harmful addictions  are  heroin,  carbohydrates and a  monthly salary .”  How does this operate?  We prefer less to follow our instincts and more a predictable way.  We feel that security is the most valuable thing in life.  A secure career is the ultimate dream and we train our young generation to chase security at any cost.  In the earlier days, if all knowledge was tied to application in daily life or for survival,  elimination of many risks have given us the freedom to manufacture knowledge which is not necessarily related to immediate survival.  You can argue,  debate and failure does not carry a prize. The reason why a section of the population could indulge in the luxury of such academic and philosophical pursuits which carry no risk is that somewhere, somebody is paying the bill  for  all these by  their daily encounter with risks .     

This being the case, we need to further examine the relationship between life and risk . We must promote a life which welcomes risks and surprises . Often what happens is that the risk-takers are underappreciated and unknown. While our curriculum gives ample space to preachers of all kind,  we pay comparatively less attention to actual practitioners of various craft.  We learn far more about poets than about entrepreneurs or innovators. In such a  scenario , how do we expect our children to be motivated to become entrepreneurs?  One of the greatest skill which our children need to pick up is to be prepared for surprises and failures in life. Looking back, many of us will realise that  a majority of the risks we feared were no risk at all and it was only our addiction to security and  fear  of  failure which prevented us from embracing many such opportunities in the past. In modern times , when we try to eliminate risks, we are also forsaking the opportunity to face real failures which in turn help us to learn new things.   Nietzsche once told that a man needs two things, danger and play. The most thrilling moments in life are often created by people who opt for this mix of danger and play. Every comfort we enjoy, every innovative product we hold in our hands,  ultimately owe its existence to someone who took a  risk while following his/her passions.    

 Life need not be just a frantic search for security and repetitions but can be an exciting journey of surprises.  When we try to live so carefully, we are missing life itself. At every turn of our life, there is something like a calculated risk from which we should never run away.  We need to remind ourselves that a  life of no risk is no life at all.  Finally, when we reach the end of our lives,  we will realise so painfully that the biggest risk in life was not to have taken any risk at all.  Of course, security can make us sleep but life is not only meant for sleep but to be awake and to wonder.   

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  • Reply
    Sumana Ghosh
    October 16, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Security in these insecure times…does give a relief most…as we are tuned to this since we were born..But most of us deep down are lured by the unknown…paths not treaded so far…

    • Reply
      Boby George
      October 30, 2020 at 6:37 pm

      Yes, lured by the unknown. The evolutionary instincts within us.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    While farmers in faraway places urge their children to study and then find a secure job in the city, they forget that, when their children obey, no one will be left to work the farm. I just saw a documentary about farmers in Bhutan, and they did just that. Yes it is hard work, but they are almost or completely self-sufficient and in this time, I think that is the thing to be. Your article just hits the right string. We should move away from the ‘more’ attitude and go back to quality life, where we indeed will meet hardships, but it is so much more satisfying to pick your own vegetables than to drive to the store and buy them.

    • Reply
      Boby George
      October 30, 2020 at 6:34 pm

      Absolutely. However it is not easy to break the barriers of security feeling and embrace the unknown . However there is so much life when anyone does that. Its a call everyone needs to take.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you Boby for pointing out the importance of taking the risk in life. How true is that “the risk-takers are underappreciated and unknown”. I wonder is it because our society believes in success as merely being able to earn a sufficient amount of salary to upkeep with their needs. I also wonder, if our education system in any way helps the students to understand what it means by meaningful and fulfilling life.
    From my personal experience, I would say taking the risks, enable us to challenge the social norms and venture into the unknown and it also certainly allows for self-improvement and advancement in life.

    • Reply
      Boby George
      October 30, 2020 at 6:36 pm

      You are right. We are so much conditioned by education system which places a premium on security and status quo. However only the bold , choose the road less travelled and create a wonderful life for them.

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