To take a risk means to take a special kind of path. It means to make a discrete decision or a series of discrete decisions in order to guide oneself through a blurry situation filled with blurry continual blendable stimuli. It is an attempt to take a determinate path through an indeterminate situation. One can avoid the situation and thus avoid the need to take the risk. But if a person has to move through the situation, he has to make choices that affirm one possible path to the exclusion of others.
Normally, when we think of risk, we think of the consequence of taking a wrong path as that of losing something. If we bet in a card game or invest money in the stock market, we could lose money if we make a bad bet or a wrong investment. If we promote a marketing plan in the company where we work and it fails, we could get demoted or fired. If a guy gets a gift for his girlfriend, say a necklace, and the design of the necklace doesn’t appeal to the lady, she could get angry with him and temporarily withdraw her affection from him for not better understanding her tastes. Or she could simply return the necklace to the store and exchange it for one she would like. In this case, the negative consequences of the risk turn out to be minimal.
In some situations of risk, one has greater control over the outcome than in others. A good risk is one where there are more determinate defined discrete stimuli than indeterminate blurry blendable continual stimuli in the situation, so that there is a greater probability that one’s decision or decisions will lead to the desired results. In other words, there are more controllable defined aspects and fewer variables. By contrast, a bad risk is one where the indeterminate blurry blendable continual stimuli outnumber the determinate defined discrete stimuli in the situation, so that there is a greater probability that one’s decision or decisions will not lead to the desired result.
A lot of times, the negative results of a risk have a more intangible effect. An artist risks losing a lot of time and energy exploring an aesthetic style that later proves to be very unappealing. Furthermore, the unappealing aesthetic style could damage his reputation with his public. And here, I am not talking about the artist for whom the damaged reputation is temporary and who gets discovered as a genius later in life or after his death. I am talking about the artist who never recovers from the damage. Unfortunately, some artists never can find out if their artistic risk was worth it in the end. Nevertheless, unless an artist takes the risk, he will not have the opportunity to make an imprint or imprints that will be preserved in society.
Another way of looking at risk is that it is taking actions for a desired result based on imperfect knowledge. If a person has control of all the factors involved in a process as a result of perfect knowledge, there is no risk. It also means that the action is mechanical or routine, and there is no meaningful imprint involved in the result of the process. Any meaningful imprint involves some kind of risk. One moves with imperfect knowledge on a path through continual stimuli in order to leave an imprint on a grounded experiential surface. That surface can be a literal physical surface, or it can be the metaphorical surface of the minds of people.
But with modern technology, humans are trying to eliminate risk in life. Not only the bad risks that have a high probability of negative outcomes, but also the good risks that have a high probability of positive outcomes and that can stimulate a person to meet a challenge and be positively transformed by it. It is like in modern medicine where so many drugs eliminate the good microbes that our body needs along with the bad microbes that pose a danger. People need good microbes, and they need the challenge of good risks in order to grow and develop and flourish.
Modern technology tries to eliminate the possibility of mistakes or failure. But people need to experience mistakes and failures in order to be able to learn and to focus their actions towards meaningful successful outcomes that leave meaningful imprints. Young people in particular need the opportunity to take good risks in their lives in order to grow and develop. And yet it is precisely this group that is most predisposed to using the modern consumer technology that eliminates so many risks as well as rich vibrant experiences. It is this group of people that is most predisposed to buying the newest most advanced computer devices and to downloading the newest apps.
Young people are seduced by modern consumer technology to live their lives where more and more life tasks can be controlled and manipulated, such that there are always positive outcomes. This protects them from failure. As a result, they increasingly live their lives in a bubble, a vacuum bereft of experiential surfaces to make and preserve imprints. Risk is an element that is intimately tied up with meaningful imprints. As more and more opportunities for taking good risks in everyday life tasks dry up, many young people recur to taking bad risks in order to feel alive and to make and receive some kind of imprint. They take drugs. They become binge drinkers. They engage in unprotected sex. They participate in criminal activity. They participate in extreme sports. They go off on dangerous adventures. In short, they engage in potentially self-destructive activities in order to pull themselves out of their experiential bubble. By losing the opportunity to take good calculated risks, they end up putting themselves in situations where they take bad uncontrollable risks. And many times, the consequences of these bad risks leave a young person hurt or traumatized or both. Lasting negative effects that could have been avoided if the young person had only been allowed to grow and develop in a natural flow of primary experience.
To take a risk means to perform a task with imperfect knowledge as to what is the best way to perform the task. When a young person uses his smartphone to find out as much information as he can ahead of time in order to gain control of a situation and diminish the risk, he is not only taking the adventure out of a situation, but he is taking the opportunity to test himself out of the situation as well. Among consumer technology devices, it is the smartphone that most effectively acts to give a young person a distorted control and that prevents him from grappling with uncertainty in the world of primary experience.
By looking at life as a series of discrete interactions with a machine in order to make one’s actions in the world as risk-free as possible, a young person today is missing out on life. He becomes like the device he is using. He becomes a machine. The only entities that almost always succeed in their tasks in a relatively risk-free way are machines. It is normal for humans to fail sometimes as a result of trial and error in the world of primary experience. And in the process of taking good calculated risks, a person generates healthy friction that stimulates him to life, allows him to have rich vibrant experiences, and allows him the opportunity to make meaningful imprints, some of which he can use to preserve and to prepare for death. In short, one eliminates risk only at the cost of eliminating life. And humans, in eliminating risk and life, are becoming robots.
© 2013 Laurence Mesirow