The Risk of Avoiding Risk

It’s natural to want to avoid risk, whether it is emotional or physical. Sometimes it’s a good idea. But sometimes it can lead to increased suffering down the road. And for some people, like me, it can cripple you.

I’ve found that risk avoidance is just as dangerous as seeking it out. I’ll give an example. It’s just as dangerous to drive too slowly for the conditions as it is to drive too fast. If you drive too fast, you may lose control of your vehicle or hit an obstacle. If you drive too slowly, other people may hit you or get into accidents trying to avoid you. So the best path is (as usual) the middle path.

I was reminded of this when I saw that Richland, a small town in Washington State, has begun removing the swingsets in all it’s school playgrounds. Their reason? Swings are dangerous.

I submit that learning to respond appropriately to danger is important to emotional and mental development. If you sometimes have danger in your life, you learn to either be careful or deal with pain. You learn fortitude and persistence. If you are always protected from all adversity and struggle, you will develop no strength. How strong would you be if an exercise machine did all the work for you? How good with money would you be if you never had to earn any of it?

Emotional risk is especially important to accept. I have had a problem taking criticism, so much so that it has hampered my ability to learn and left me very immature in many ways. This happened because I would always avoid truth that was painful, and take criticism or advice personally, so it hurt so much that I’d ignore that advice. It caused me to completely reject all manner of useful information.

Think about how crippling it would be if you refused to love anyone because you were afraid of losing them. It doesn’t make any more sense to avoid advice or even criticism because you are afraid of pain. I say it because I constantly do it! And every day, I see more and more people who are afraid of risk. The American society seems to be terrified of risk, and avoiding it ultimately makes us weaker and less able to handle struggle or adversity.

We can stand up against fear, and at the same time maintain a reasonable level of safety. The key to all of this is to keep your goal in mind. Adversity builds strength. So don’t try to avoid all risk. Make it okay to be hurt, a little anyway. Being hurt isn’t the end. If you learn to recover from the small pains, the bigger ones will be easier to deal with. Life cannot happen without pain, so it pays to be strong.

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