For the inaugural edition of the Lytspeed Communications Rantbox, it seems appropriate to talk about risk. Risk can take a myriad of forms, from simple chance encounters to life-threatening actions. The shy teenage boy who asks the pretty girl for a date is taking a risk, as is the motormouth, uncomfortable with silence, who actually tries keep his mouth shut for a change.
The term “risk” implies that there is something to be lost and something to be gained in the attempt. A successful attempt indicates that the quantity at risk is retained and perhaps something more is gained. An unsuccessful attempt often means that all is lost, the quantity at risk and the potential gain. In some circumstances, both are possible; the quantity at risk is lost, but something else is gained. In all these cases, the potential gain must be measured against the potential loss before we take the risk.
The obvious circumstance that comes to mind concerns finances. We speak of high risk/high return investments and the entire banking system is based in risk management. The risks being taken here involve money — something that is outside ourselves, but important in our society nonetheless. A person who manages risks well in the money arena is likely to be rewarded with a sense of security, the opposite of risk, even though that sense of security may be false.
But are these the greatest risks we face? For some, it may be. They may never attempt anything but outside risks, risks that have to do with material possessions, jobs and social status. For some, however, risk may be much more personal and, therefore, greater. The casual songwriter who performs an original song for the first time in front of strangers is risking something from within herself, and audiences are often cruel. If they don’t like the song, she may never write again (or may never perform again.) The writer sending his work to magazine editors faces the same risk of rejection, but from a professional in the field instead of a live audience. The scientist who takes a step out of the bounds of accepted doctrine in order to pursue a revolutionary idea risks personal and professional ridicule, not to mention financial ruin and an end to his work.
There are risks even more personal than this. The alcoholic who finally decides to make it through that first night without a drink runs the risk of meeting himself, with nowhere to hide. The battered wife, sneaking the children quietly out of the house and to a shelter while her tormentor sleeps in the bedroom risks her life. The frightened embezzler, leaving to turn himself in to the police, doesn’t know if he will be returning to his wife and son or taking up residence in a jail cell. The loving newlywed waits, crying and praying, for his wife to return after their first fight, when he finally stood his ground.
At some point, we all face personal risk. Some people refuse to take the risks, so afraid to lose something within themselves that they never take the chance to grow. Risks are fertile ground; the potential for personal growth following a risk is greater than perhaps any other time, yet most people shy away, not willing to lose what they have or fearing the unknown following the risk.
Why do so many people put up with abuse from their spouses? One explanation is that the abuse is a known quantity. The dark area beyond the abuse has become unknown territory, more fear-inducing than the abuse itself. The risk is in entering the unknown, where they can’t yet see how much there is to gain from escaping the relationship.
Even in cases where the attempt fails, there is still the possibility of learning from the risk. In the above examples, the battered wife may find that her husband doesn’t expect her to stand up to him and doesn’t know how to react. She may find that she holds some power over her life. The writer and musician may receive helpful suggestions from the people who observe their work, even if the reaction isn’t positive. The alcoholic may find out just how dependent he is on alcohol and realize that he needs help from others to kick it. The scientist may find that some of his observations were incorrect, but that his work helps another scientist to fill in a gap in her work. The embezzler may find that the situation at home was contributing to his stealing, and that the best thing for him is to be alone for a while. The newlywed may find that his wife mistrusts him, and that they now have a goal to pursue together.
Every risk, no matter how small, carries the potential to teach us more about ourselves. Sometimes that knowledge is not always what we want to hear, but something we need to hear nonetheless. Often, identifying the risks we need to take is difficult, because our self-defense mechanisms hide them behind masks of apathy, anger, self-righteousness or other emotions. Because of this, our emotions can be used as road signs to tell us which direction to go. Sometimes all it takes is recognizing the emotion we are feeling and examining its source to determine what we need to do to solve a problem.
Our friends can be invaluable for this very reason. They can often see emotions in us of which we are completely unaware. If our friends truly care, they will be willing to risk our anger to let us know what they see happening in us. This outside perspective is necessary for us to get a clear picture of ourselves. It is impossible for us to know exactly what is going on in our own heads at any given time. Even if we are experts at self-realization, there will still be part of us that is doing the observing and can’t be observed itself. Our friends are able to see some of the parts of us that we miss, and their feedback can help us address problems we may not know we have.
Part of the purpose of this soapbox exercise is to give me a risk-taking forum. I intend to write about many topics, both in poetry and opinion essays like this, and publish them where others can read them. I will often be writing candidly, publishing thoughts I may not have discussed with anyone else in an attempt to work through them. In that respect, these essays will be almost like journal entries, often personal and introspective. Since I am doing this openly, where anyone with a web browser has access to what I write, feedback is welcome. That’s part of the risk. I may receive information that I don’t want to know, but I will do my best to evaluate that information in the light of constructive feedback and determine whether it is information I can use to improve myself.
I will attempt to write these essays weekly, though circumstances may dictate the schedule. Feel free to check back often for new rants, reviews and poetry. I will keep archives of all above in case you don’t check in for a week or two.