people playing poker

How many times have you heard the admonition “do not take risk”? When the conversation turns to sport (i.e. motorcycling, horse riding, cycling) or physical activities (i.e. sailing, mountaineering, diving) the banal (common) comment is “you take risks”.

In my mind the expression “taking risk” open a direct question: “do I take risks? Am I so unconscious or so adrenalin freak to take risk (expose someone or something valued to danger, harm, or loss)?

Then I start to evaluate myself and to consider my thinking and my attitude. And I question.

From an article on Internet (edited for brevity): “Some authors have identified the perception of benefits … how much risk they [the subjects] are willing to accept in exchange for a specific return as the individual factors that may drive risk taking.

Within this framework, the influence of the cognitive and emotional processes in decision-making may affect the way in which a risky situation is perceived.

First, an inaccurate assessment of a situation may constitute a perceptual bias in decision-making, which might influence risk taking…

In addition, executive control is the ability to control thoughts to inhibit or adapt behaviours according to the situation. It involves top-down mental processes that require the individual to make an effort, meaning that the process is not automatic.

Individuals with low executive control have been shown to more poorly evaluate situations and search for less information before making decisions, which can lead to risky behaviours.

Finally, there seems to be consensus across different domains that risk proneness influences risk taking. This trait has been defined as the propensity to be attracted to potentially risky activities and could be considered a cross-situational trait in risk taking as it has been related to temperamental aspects, such as sensation seeking and impulsivity. Indeed, while some individuals are characterised by strong directional risk proneness, others are situation-sensitive.”

“Taking a risk” is, in my opinion,  an ambiguous expression probably only valid when used by a spectator not familiar with the act is considering or watching.

No person compos sui (master of one’s self) is taking a risk. Nobody with a correct level of awareness wants to expose the self or someone else to danger, harm, or loss. No one of my friends or acquittances, no one of the persons I ride with or a trek with, take the chance of failure or arm.

Knowledge and experience, situation awareness, identification of the hazards, planning with space and time to modify plan, competent execution are the negation of risk taking.

Can all these operational virtues eliminate failure and guarantee always a positive outcome? Obviously not: knowledge, experience and competence have limits even among most professionals. Mistakes are made, poor planning occurs, and the area of unforeseeable can be reduced but is still open ahead: this is not taking more risk than crossing the street or being out in an electric storm: lightning can strike at any moment: Being vulnerable to external forces is not a human dimension reserved to sport (i.e. motorcycling, horse riding, cycling) or physical activities (i.e. sailing, mountaineering, diving), is not for the ones “who take risks” but it is the human status of our temporary existence: sitting at home is not a defence.

If we want to be part of the glorious bunch of risk-takers, the ones always blustering improbable performances we must, at least, warn the audience that we are operating in fiction mode.

I submit that “taking a risk” should be eliminated from our way of talking: it will take out the bravado (a pretence of bravery) from our stories, it will oblige us to take response-ability of any act, without excuses or third parties accusation.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"