Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Of Risk and Prudence

Risk - Part 2

To respect Risk's dangers seems to invite more disdain than support these days. Not that the adventurous American spirit has ever sustained a denial of Risk; or has ever groveled at the feminine feet of Prudence.

Risk has been a man’s game, glorified as the laugh-in-the-face-of-danger hard-charging fix-the-mess-later macho rough-rider mentality upon which all that is good about humanity has been staked by popular opinion.

Prudence is the quiet, apron-skirted motherly admonition to look both ways before crossing the street as ambition charges out the kitchen door, looking to prove or acquire something. Or just to have fun – that ambiguous goal Risk promises as a reward, and Prudence only quietly defers.

Risk is what banks like to avoid – or used to, anyway. Risk is what insurance companies want to quantify. Prudence, on the other hand, is the way both banks and insurance companies make their money. Like a fist-packing outdoorsman's gracious wife, it’s what makes cold, hard risk palpable.

That’s because as much as we glorify it, Risk rarely proves to be as benign as when it’s manipulated in the game of the same name.

Risk can be measured in levels of tolerance. Indeed, tolerance for Risk can fluctuate over time relative to its rewards. Sometimes new-found confidence and expertise can negate levels of Risk previous generations considered high. On the other hand, considerable levels of strife can negate certain risks such as starvation (compared with moving west from the Dust Bowl) or the Gestapo (compared with serving in the French Resistance).

Rarely do people start a business with little to no Risk. After all, if something didn’t involve Risk, hundreds of other people have probably already tried it, and probably haven’t made much money in the process.

People who don’t Risk something rarely become heroes or cultural icons. Society tends to admire people who – no matter how foolhardy – manage to beat the odds and subdue Risk. Conquering it is how most people most significantly acquire money and achieve status.

And what of Prudence, our erstwhile wallflower of a beneficial personality trait? She receives more lip-serviced respect regarding her benefits, as opposed to the wimps who respect the inherent dangers in Risk and back away from them. Risk champions itself, while Prudence demurs even after stating her case. You many not win if you take risks, but you’ll be thought better of than if you methodically practice Prudence.

So once again, the machismo machine sets the bar, claims its stake, and gets the girl; while the feminine starchiness doesn’t fail, but doesn’t win, either.

Which explains a lot, doesn't it?

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