Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Spectrum Magazine 19th June 2010

15.The Risk Business

“The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive. (Becker, Ernest)”

So that’s it, to feel “alive” we must at times be close to death whilst our survival instincts try and protect us from risk.

If there is a thing such as acceptable risk, who are the custodians of that risk? Who decides where the limits lie and the value of risk to the individual, and society as a whole? A constant bleat from the tabloids is about the risk to the rescuers, the cost, and stupidity of those needing help. Putting aside those who patently are ill equipped, the majority needing the services of rescue teams are exercising their rights to take calculated risk given their respective abilities and experience. Rescue teams are, for the most part, volunteer enthusiasts, and in the case of the professional rescue services eg. the RAF, they have cleverly integrated pilot and crew training into the fantastic cover they provide.

The real question is, as a society, is risk for the individual acceptable or valuable for the country as a whole? We are living in an increasingly risk adverse or controlled country where the prevalent health and safety culture has seeped beyond the necessary need to protect the individual from the unscrupulous, into the realms of infringing onto personal responsibility. I feel at times that we are also drifting towards a more litigious culture where individuals having genuine accidents are encouraged to seek damages and find fault. In the USA the situation exists where Layers and insurance companies hover around every mountain accident, looking to sue the guide, the outfitters or the equipment manufacturer. Those who they think may provide the biggest post accident nest egg possible. Some time ago I broke my back and was smashed up in a climbing wall incident. I was advised to sue or at least find fault. I declined to do so. As an adult entering an adventure sport I automatically take on those genuine risks associated with the sport myself, stone fall, lighting strike, avalanche and genuine human fallibility. I don’t need to be told, like some idiot in a hamburger chain, that the cup contents are hot when there is steam pissing out of the lid.

The arguments surrounding the need for business to take risks are well understood and accepted. It is an economic argument; as those who succeed will genuinely profit the country. Personal informed risk is a little trickier, but to live in a culture where there are no explorers, no adventurers to inspire, no stories to marvel at, will be a grey and much less rich one. One where the grey suits have won, the bland conformity of game shows and celebrity gossip will be our only reference points for vicarious living. When you read “Into Thin Air”, or “Touching the Void”, you should celebrate the struggle and be thankful that someone is actually still willing to push himself or herself to the limit in order to feel fully alive.

If you are unpacking your rucksack today having surfed a monster, climbed a great route, jumped a huge kicker, you should toast yourselves. You are part of the same sprit that sent a man to the moon. Is does not need to make sense or be logical. Don’t listen to the doubters who say you are mad, and ask you why? Just be polite and quietly know that when your heart is pounding fast, the blood is coursing through your veins and you palms are sweating with fear and anticipation, that you and Neil Armstrong are brothers and sisters in adventure.

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