How Do You Evaluate Risk?

Every day, we must evaluate risk. Our entire lives are a balancing act between what we want, and what we are willing to risk to get it.

As children, we start to learn this lesson. For example, you might want to express yourself by something you say or do or wear. But are you willing to risk being embarrassed in front of other students?

Later on as adults, the risk/reward calculation continues. Maybe you want a better job, that pays more or offers new challenges. So, are you willing to risk leaving your stable, current job?

Sometimes, risky actions are rewarded. You might risk rejection by approaching a romantic interest, but are rewarded with a date. But risk sometimes leads to negative consequences. Maybe your offer of a date gets rebuffed.

As a result, we get used to figuring out: is the reward worth the risk? Can I live with the odds of failure versus the odds of success?

Now, more than ever, we need to perform these internal calculations. Unfortunately, we don’t have much experience in determining the likelihood of contracting the disease. No one does, because this virus is new and unknown.

As some restrictions are loosened, we all must weigh the risks against the reward. For instance, let’s say I want to eat out. Is the seating indoor or outdoor? How close will I be sitting to other customers? Will my server be wearing a mask? Are the kitchens cleaned routinely?

And pretty much all public activity will have to be evaluated in this way. Do I have pre-existing conditions? Am I  likely to end up in the hospital  — or even die — if I get sick? Similarly, how likely are my loved ones to survive an infection? How badly do I want these groceries, or that paycheck, or to hear that band?

This is something that is going to play a more important part of our lives going forward. How do you evaluate risk?

Related questions: How important is intuition? What is necessary to change your mind? Why are people afraid of death? Freedom or security? What are you willing to sacrifice?

1 thought on “How Do You Evaluate Risk?”

  1. I don’t have a hard-and fast formula for assessing risk in most situations. More often than not I rely on instinct. So what I offer here are a few superimposed “rules” for what I think are part of my internal weighing of potential successes and liabilities. I:

    1. listen to those with expertise and/or wisdom on a topic;
    2. weigh the odds — provided by those with expertise and/or wisdom — on whether or not I might succeed or fail as well as of how I might impact myself and/or others if I fail;
    3. figure out if I have the capacity to fail.

    For the pandemic, I perhaps come closest to following these rules. For example, I’ve learned from experts that passing by someone outside at an acceptable social distance is of much less of a risk of catching or infecting someone than doing so inside some enclosed structure — everything from in a hallway to a grocery store. So do I go for socially-distanced walks outdoors and bring a mask just in case I run into someone I know and want to have a short conversation. Periodically, I have to go grocery shopping. I wear a mask the full time, I keep a social distance, and I bag my own groceries. Lastly, I do intend on staying home from work as long as it is acceptable to my workplace — the public health experts are very concerned we opening up for business too early. I see no need to endanger myself or others when remote meetings has become second-nature.

    Later on, I may post something about assessing risk unrelated to the pandemic. But I’ll let this serve as an acceptable answer for now.

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