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How Much Risk are We Capable of Taking?

(Khaleej Times, 28 June)

The world was rattled by two sea incidents recently. One in the Black Sea and the other in the North Atlantic. Although I am speaking about them together, the two tragedies are incomparable, in terms of magnitude and even the global attention they received.

There is nothing common between the Greek migrant disaster and the Titan submersible catastrophe other than the fact that all those who were involved knew reasonably well what they were undertaking. Even before they set out, they knew that they were embarking on a voyage that not many people in the world would venture.

While one group, buoyed by their wealth and spirit, did it for the adrenaline rush that adventure trips provided, the other multitude made an informed choice forced by dire life circumstances. Although the motivations are stark and stinging by contrast, they all knew the risks that came with their expeditions, and yet, they were unflinching in their intention.

They embraced the risk, not only because they didn’t expect things to go so frightfully wrong, but also because, to them, wagering their lives probably seemed like a worthy cause for whatever return it would bring if they succeeded in it. A sense of accomplishment to the adventure tourists, and a chance at a better life for the migrants; these were sufficient reasons for them to disregard the dangers that lurked in the way.

It prompts me to consider how much risk-taking we are all capable of in our lives. For the most part, the conservative among us will bat for certainty and the peace of mind that comes with it. A steady job in the government that lasts till superannuation is a preferred career choice over a taxing corporate streak. A salaried existence is considered a safer bet than an entrepreneurial leap, and term deposits are a more preferred place to park one’s wealth than the stock market. These are typical of people who will not trade their comfort zone for a freak challenge.

But there are those to whom life assumes a monotonous character if they don’t push the boundaries, test their limits and show their mettle to the world. What spurs them to undertake journeys that will require a profusion of grit and resilience that sometimes have fatal consequences is still a mystery. But according to psychologists, it is the adrenalin effect that drives most people to accept high-risk dares. It makes them feel alive and validates their existence. The thrill and excitement it brings can be addictive and hard to refrain from.

Perhaps, there is more to their pursuits than meets the eye. I imagine that the daredevils delight in defying death and defeat. I cannot say for certain if it gives them an exaggerated sense of supremacy over life, but it sure makes them feel invincible when they triumph over dangerous conditions that can even result in death. I am even tempted to liken their spirit to the fearlessness of soldiers on the frontline or firefighters walking into a blaze.

It is also possible that they believe in the maxim of seizing the moment and infusing it with the entirety of their body and mind. Or maybe, indulging in acts of danger and coming out unscathed makes them euphoric and puts them ahead of others in the race. The brag factor in such acts cannot be overlooked either.

People’s appetite for risk and their endurance quotient depends on their personality. Yet the level of tenacity some intrepid souls often display cross all regular lines, and it makes them oblivious to the potential casualties and sometimes even fatalities that might ensue.

Over 310 people are estimated to have died trying to scale the Everest since early 1900s, but that hasn’t stopped the mountain maniacs from planning their next big trip to the peak. No bad precedence will stop enthusiasts from seeking their share of the thrill from life. On the other side, it wasn’t the first time that migrants had lost their lives trying to escape hardship in their native lands. The exodus will continue despite the recent disaster.

Nobody wants to die, but no one considers death as a serious probability when they plan to take the unconventional path. There is a certain defiance that they exhibit, or a desperation as in the case of the migrants, but anyone who has heard of Murphy’s Law will know, ‘if anything can go wrong, it will’. Especially if luck is not in their favour.

Things went horrifically wrong twice in the past fortnight, and one can safely presume that it will not be the last time that we will hear of such tragedies. The human spirit is indomitable, and it will not capitulate to the obstinacy of fate. It will take chances at the Roulette wheel as may times as it can. Such is life.

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