Reason #11. Why I care about safety

Reason #11.  Graduate School.

When doing my graduate research at Dartmouth College I was obsessed with risk-taking behavior.  Key questions included:  Why do we intentionally embrace a known risk?  What causes us to embrace more risk in academics or business or interpersonal choices?  How do we encourage constructive  risk tolerance, risky shift, and risk taking behavior?

At the time I was teaching high school English in a boarding school in New Hampshire.  Like every faculty member, I was required to embrace the “triple threat” requirements as a teacher, dorm parent, and a coach.  I supervised a dormitory house with 12 9th grade boys.  I coached soccer and x-c skiing.  I taught rock climbing, whitewater canoeing, winter camping, outdoor adventures.  I ran a January program that was designed to “foster risk taking”  in academics and socially constructive outdoor adventures, which included a 3-day mandatory winter camping expedition called “Sophomore Wilderness.”  And I met a lovely woman that I was not supposed to date– because she was on the faculty.  And we dated.  Got engaged.  Then married, on Lake Winnepausaukee.  Some 23 + years ago.  Like the students and other faculty, I embraced risk.

My research required that I develop an assessment of adolescent risk taking behavior.  Based upon recent related research and validated approaches.  Then test the questions on hundreds of adolescents at summer camps, and at two independent high schools.

I found that adolescents described self-esteem in multi-dimensions (such as physical, social, academic, etc.)   But adolescents did not discriminate between types of risk in that way.  They only discriminated between socially constructive risks (helping others, talking to a teacher, etc) or socially destructive  risks (taking drugs, sexual activity, etc.)

Some 25+ years later I remain fascinated by several facts:

1.  Adults act like those adolescents.  Adults discriminate between socially constructive and socially non-constructive risks.

2.  That instant between a stimulus/trigger and a response/action defines our career success.

3.  Coaches/consultants can help adults determine what is safe or risky, and what is productive or not.

4.  I remain continually surprised and puzzled by that opening question:  Why do people intentionally embrace a known risk?


What do you think?