Musings: Taking a risk

My topic of thought yesterday was risks and attitudes to it. I do not conciously come up with a topic it is whatever pops into my head.

In more developed countries we are very risk adverse. In poorer countries more risk seems to be acceptable. But is this REALLY the case?

I have concluded that it is not that risk is more acceptable it is the perception of what is risky and what is not. That perception is driven by our experiences.


For example, in Africa you will often see a vehicle with 2 people in the front seats, 4 on the back seats, 2 or 3 in the boot space, a roof rack loaded to double the height of the vehicle and then two or three guys hanging onto the top of all that. Is that risky sitting on the top? We would say YES!!! But the guy on the top is minding the load and does this all day every day. He survived so far so he does not regard it as a great risk.

In developed countries we rarely do anything risky. The biggest risk we take in our daily lives is getting into the car or by crossing the road. Do we regard this as a big risk? No, because we do it regularly and our experience says we are most likely to survive. A safer form of travel is by aircraft, so why do we feel more at risk at the airport compared to driving to the airport? Because our experience of flying is less so we FEEL more at risk.

The airline industry is probably one of the most risk adverse things there is. This is a good thing but it makes airline travel expensive. But we would have no airline industry if the Wright brothers did not take risks during those first flights or if test pilots did not take off in untested new aircraft.

In Africa people travel in 15 seat minibuses adapted to carry 20 people or as pillion passenger without a helmet on a motorbike taxi. Because they are prepared to take the risk they have a cheap effective public transport system. They do it daily and have survived so it is percieved as a low risk to them. On the other hand we insist on properly tested and insured vehicles and drivers on good safe road systems. Just look at the state of our public transport systems, especially in rural areas. It is expensive and almost non existent. That is the price we pay for low risk.

So was I at great risk travelling through Africa? No! Africans do it every day. But because it is outside my normal experiences, it is perceived as being risky.

The moral of the story. .. new experiences may feel more risky, that is why they are exciting, but if you do not take risks, your life will be less exciting and you will not move forward.

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