Risk & Choice

Risk and choice should always be friends. They belong together. Risk should never be forced, but equally it shouldn’t be eliminated from choice.  Our Aussie culture with (at least I’d like to think) our best interests at heart has created so many rules about so many things that what used to be choices are no longer there. Let me tell you a couple of things I’ve noticed that led me to this pondering… 

I recently visited the Blue Mountains and as we traversed the stunning landscape and walking tracks I became aware of multiple signs declaring ‘Danger! Do not enter’. Does anyone else remember the signs that used to say, ‘Danger! Enter at own risk’?  There was not one of those! Instead they all insisted on a single action response: do not enter. We used to be encouraged to think for ourselves, assess the danger before us, our mobility, our ability, our safety for example and then make a choice based on our own assessment. This was and is an important skill!  The sign flagged a danger and that we had a choice to make and things to contemplate about whether we continued or stopped. It is invaluable to learn as you grow what you are capable of and what you are not; to look, listen and evaluate the situation before us. Yet now, we are warned and told what response to have. No thought required… and it doesn’t seem right.

I bought a trampoline for my daughter for Christmas. It’s not like the one I spent my childhood bouncing on… for one it is round and not rectangle, but secondly it came with a net. I don’t like trampolines with nets. Nets are the biggest safety scandal in backyard activity and risk taking! The reason? Kids assume the nets are going to keep them safe from falling off, so they’re not bothered about how they jump, nor do they consciously consider the risk of what they are doing on the trampoline – you can do anything because there’s a net, can’t you?! They are an accident waiting to happen. A trampoline without a net makes the bouncer keenly aware that they’re responsible for their actions, their spatial awareness and their height from the ground. There are no illusions. There is implied responsibility and obvious consequences – the risk is apparent. 

Did you know you’re not allowed to climb trees in Primary school yards? The only thing you can climb is the climbing frame made to safety regulations and with soft-fall of regulation depth beneath it. There is something understandable about this but also something innately wrong with this. Kids were made to climb, to learn to overcome and conquer, to challenge themselves and their skills and also to connect in this tactile way with nature… and it just doesn’t seem right.

If you are a parent, I encourage you to let your children climb trees, the rocks at the beach, explore the bush off the beaten track. Show them how to do it with balance and stability. Go for walks in the rain or even in the dark. Get them to think about how to traverse the rocky landscape before them, whether they need to make adjustments for the weather, consider their footwear or their pace. Follow in my rebellion against ‘safety at all cost’ and encourage independent thought, critical thinking and assessment of circumstances and likely outcomes. Take the silly flimsy netting off the trampoline! Allowing risk and choice to remain friends will allow adventure and possibilities to rise in their imaginations. It allows them to be a hero in their own story and rise to the challenge, to be an overcomer. It allows them to calculate risk, use critical thinking and grow confidence in their abilities and choices. 

Risk is essential to your wellbeing. No relationship was started without it. No friendship got through a hurt or a misunderstanding without it. No marriage began or kept going without it. No-one came back from an injury or a disgrace without it. No-one attempted any great fete without it. Risk is good for us. Risk is necessary. Risk presents a challenge. Risk requires assessment and evaluation. Risk allows us to conquer and overcome. Risk is often fun! I fear we are building a culture and a generation that defers thinking to a higher authority, that insists upon risk elimination and holds up safety as the pinnacle of our longevity and success. Life was meant to be lived as a ‘choose your own adventure’ story – in full colour and a little on the edge! Why not let a little risk challenge your possibilities? Nothing of any value was ever achieved without it.

So, may this year, as you see DANGER – may you ENTER AT OWN RISK – and have a wow of a time! You’ve got this!

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