Risk vs Reward – why are we so bad at it?

The recent cold conditions in Georgia have highlighted to me the terrible lack of discrimination folks seem to apply to what should obviously be considered a “high risk” situation.

The topic of “Risk vs Reward” has been relatively prominent in the news lately with the terrible judgment shown by our financial and other corporate institutions  in evaluating what risks should be deemed acceptable for what could only ever have been very tentative rewards down the line.

I have the luxury of working for a company that is commonsensical about inclement weather and they allow me the option of telecommuting should the weather make driving conditions too risky – BY MY OWN EVALUATION. I recognize that there are plenty of folks out there who do not work for such enlightened companies. But I also recognize that there are plenty of other folks who have a similar freedom to choose, be it telecommuting, sick days, comp time or some other alternative to actually risking their health and safety over their commute and yet they do not exercise that option.

Driving is a terribly risky activity relative to most other things we do on a daily basis. It requires focus, awareness, a sound vehicle and not a small amount of luck that others driving around you are similarly serious about the endeavor. But the benefits are generally so great that the risk / reward ratio is an acceptable one. Your livelihood often depends upon it, many leisure activities – shows, meeting with friends, kid’s play dates –  simply couldn’t happen without it. So we accept the risk. After all, what’s the point in living if you don’t enjoy it and that always comes with a risk / reward evaluation.

But we become so used to driving that we seem to mentally ascribe to the activity essentially a zero risk when evaluating additional circumstances. Never mind that you are already hurtling down the road in about a ton of metal, liquids, glass and composites at speeds that will pulp your body in under a second of inattention or misfortune. Now your are facing icy roads on top of that.

Yet the only consideration is that the roads may be “a little slippery”. But you’ve got front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive. Our education system has failed miserably if people are unable to recognize that no tire on a vehicle that you are driving around town, without studs or chains, can gain ANY traction on ice. Snow, sure. Mud and dirt, you bet. But ice is non-tractionable and delivering even power to 4 wheels that are not gripping the road surface has only one result: No control.

In a situation like this past Friday, we do not have enough salt or sand trucks to effectively manage a “small amount of ice” (by Northern standards) in anything like the time required to allow for us to proceed as if it were a normal day.

If you’re lucky nobody ahead of you is slowing down. No kids or wildlife are crossing the street. There is no curve in the road.

I am flabbergasted by the folks who seem so focused on maintaining “life as normal” that they ignore valid common sense warnings and hurl themselves and sometimes their most precious valuables – their kids, their spouse, their parents – into the melee so that they can make it to a gym class or to do some shopping. Really, in a day or so all WILL be back to normal.

I take risk and reward very seriously. I fly light aircraft which carries with it about the same risk of driving a motorcycle (although probably safer than driving a motorcycle in Atlanta). I enjoy shooting handguns at my local range. I will, when I can get some folks together, go bungee jumping. These are all activities that have greater than normal risk associated with them, yet with the right mindset, training and equipment the risk is for me acceptable and worth it for the pleasure that I derive from these activities.

Folks need to ask themselves. You need to ask yourself – do I understand what I am risking here? Is the pleasure, service, promise kept worth this risk or do I need to do something else, to renegotiate that promise so that it is more reasonable (reschedule that play date,  have lunch with your friend tomorrow). If it is not, then please treat the one ton box of metal and the nearly tractionless roadway that you are traveling upon with the respect and attention that it deserves.

Posted under Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on January 10, 2010 at 7:55 am

2,098 views

1 Comment so far

  1. King January 16, 2010 7:36 pm

    Bungee jumping? I believe they have added bungee jumping to the base jumping at Bridge Day. And the view is great.

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