It’s hard to accept. We don’t live in a risk free world. Not now, not ever.
How risk averse we are, however, differs wildly.
In many places the world over, children pile up on or in the back of bikes, trucks, and taxis with nary a care in the world.
Seatbelts? What are those? Heads sticking out the window? Sure! Just hold on dear while we thread this insane traffic.
At the exact same moment, speeding down the concrete spaghetti bowls found in first world locales, kids are safely ensconced under buckles, straps, and 5 point harness systems.
And then again, many of you reading this will no doubt recall fond memories of flat backed station wagons filled with girl scouts, boy scouts or some such caper, packed in and giggling at tight turns as we all crushed into each other.
Clearly, our risk aversion not only varies from country to country and between generations or epochs, but also throughout our own individual lives.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know exactly what I’m talking about.
How many of us happily waited in line for thrilling, albeit questionable, roller coasters in our youth? Got in cars with speeding drivers? Jumped carefree into lakes or rivers without once thinking what lived in the murky waters? I won’t even wade into the less legal aspects of adolescence.
And then we grow older, more careful, more conservative. We think about our children or hospital bills or simply… consequences.
We change our perspective on risk, but does that mean the risk has increased?
The problem lies in avoiding so much risk that we do not live our lives. This can be compared to Epicurus’ philosophies on death, and how it should not concern us.
Indeed, if we spend all our time focusing on our fear of death that we become anxious, then we aren’t really living our best lives. If we can somehow free ourselves from this universal burden, then we can redirect our attention to pleasure, happiness and virtue… and that’s the end goal, right?
Easier said than done! I hear you cry.
Well, yes, that’s correct. And perhaps it’s naive to say we can forgo risk in the same way we can the thought of death… after all, it is an evolutionary advantage to be able to perceive it, to anticipate it, and therefore to mitigate it.
Which brings us to today’s mailbag discussion.
Obviously right now for so many of you, this very inquiry is coming to the fore. Shops are opening up, services are resuming, and yet the fear of contagion is still there. Living with the presence of COVID’s shadow, we have to ask these difficult questions:
How can we assess risk? How can we navigate the potential threats in order to live a happy life? And knowing the emotion and fear involved, can we be objective?
As always, you can email me directly at [email protected] or comment below. We will be reading out responses in our new podcast, Classical Wisdom Speaks. (New episode coming out shortly on Stoicism with Donald Robertson… available on all major platforms.)