What are the chances?

“What’s the biggest risk you’d like to take – but haven’t been able to? What would have happened to make you comfortable taking it?”

Mortal peril is what springs most immediately to mind when, as with this latest in the series of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’, we’re encouraged to consider the concept of risk. Which is ironic in a way, since reallly there is no risk whatsoever involved in dying. Because it will happen.

Everything we – all of us – do involves risk. I could be struck by a meteorite when I step outside to my postbox to collect the mail. I could be flattened by a lorry while crossing the road to the boulangerie (actually, that’s a statistically significant risk in Mézierès). I could turn on my TV set and discover, to my unsuspecting horror, that it’s tuned to the channel that is currently broadcasting ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

Hardly bears thinking about.

When it comes to risk, the art lies not in avoiding it – because you can’t – but in managing it effectively. This is one reason why I prefer to live here in Tranquility Base rather than in South Central Los Angeles. Or Bootle. And why I switch over to BBC 2 before turning the box off at bedtime.

Note that I said ‘managing’, not ‘minimising’. Never to take a discernible risk would result in a pretty dull existence, probably extending no further than cowering under the kitchen table waiting for nuclear war or the zombie apocalypse to kick off. (And if it did, just what exactly would you propose to do about it?)

Not long after I started this blog, I read a post somewhere about the tourist attractions of London. What struck me particularly, though, was a comment that had been made by an American (obviously) lady, who wrote that, while she would love to visit London, she couldn’t bring herself to, ‘because something might happen’.

‘Something might happen’? Like what? That you might find yourself on a crowded  street and no-one is carrying a concealed weapon? That you might get caught in the crossfire when a crazed gunman runs amok in a shopping mall? Oh, wait….

I’m sorry, but that’s just bloody pathetic.

But not everything is – literally – a matter of life or death. For example, I spent the greater part of my working life trying to manage (again, not minimise) the inherent risk of investing in equities: a task made easier, I have to admit, by the fact that it was someone else’s money.

As it happens, investment risk is quite a good proxy for just about every other non-mortal risk that we have to face, insofar as

  • fundamentally, it’s a matter of choice
  • the bigger the risk, the greater the potential reward, and
  • if you get it wrong it won’t actually kill you.

Although it could play havoc with your employment prospects.

Of course, there are many risks that are much more significant than those involved in investing. I once asked a beautiful girl for a date. I knew there was a risk that she would say no. That risk must have been huge, because the rewards have been incalculable. But what if I’d chosen to avoid the risk completely and not asked at all?

Now that really doesn’t bear thinking about.


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