Growing up, I always wondered why my parents encouraged me to take risks. I was often urged to participate in new activities and behaviors that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with. Nothing dangerous, of course. In fact, activities that were most likely rewarding, just ones I was too nervous to choose for myself. At this point, I just didn’t see the purpose in pushing myself beyond my limits. For example, as a shy nine-year-old girl, I went to over night summer camp for 8 weeks. It’s safe to say I cried for at least the first 6 weeks, but eleven summers later, I still attend this same camp. Now, I thank my parents for pushing me to take the initial risk of summer camp. This experience changed who I am, and I would’ve never known this if I hadn’t taken a chance. At this point, I can say with confidence that I understand the importance of trying new things and taking these risks.
John Stuart Mill also discusses the importance of risk taking in chapter three of On Liberty. He examines whether or not people should be allowed to act upon their opinions. After reading this week’s assignments and analyzing my own experiences, I have come up with my own guide to risk taking:
1. (Un) Selfishness:
During lecture today, someone mentioned selfishness as the phrase that best characterizes BASE-jumping. It’s true that this particular activity may be a bit too extreme, but generally speaking, taking risks isn’t about this. Risky behavior shouldn’t be about doing dangerous activities for that “YOLO” exhilaration or hunger for danger.
Mill believes “it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living…” In other words, since all humans have flaws, “experiments of living” are very valuable to our progression. In fact, it’s pretty unselfish for someone to partake in bold actions. The value of taking chances is not only so that we learn from our own experiences, but also so that others can learn from us.
Mill believes that individualism is essential to mankind. This idea lies at the heart and sole of American ideals. Individualism is freedom. As an American, you can express your feelings without penalty. Because of this, individuals’ actions can lead to change. Mill mentions the conformity that took place in China: “We have a warning example in China—a nation of much talent, and, in some respects, even wisdom…On the contrary, they have become stationary—have remained so for thousands of years; and if they are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners… and unless individuality shall be able successfully to assert itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China.” Due to conformity and lack of individualism, China became stagnant. There was no progress because there was no risk-taking.
Everyone followed one another. Without individuality, progress comes to a halt. Risky behavior, new ideas, and individual opinions are necessary for the well being of a society.
3. The Real World:
When trying to get a job, it’s important to stand out. I’m sure there are countless qualified applicants, so if you want to get the job, you have to be different. Hazardous behavior is often seen as a bad thing. But many times, it’s actually a good quality. Often, it leads to otherwise unanticipated opportunities. Additionally, risky behavior shows confidence. Success isn’t something that comes right to you. Without taking risks and standing out, you won’t succeed in the real world.
4. What’s the Worst that can Happen:
You take a chance and it doesn’t work out. So what? I’m not advocating for dangerous behavior, but if you take risks in life that don’t go your way, then you have mistakes to learn from. You wouldn’t be able to learn from these experiences however, if you didn’t take a chance in the first place. As cliché as it sounds, life really is a learning process. It’s impossible to learn from your mistakes without making them. Risk-taking is beneficial in one-way or another. If you don’t benefit from your experience, then you can learn from it. And as Mill believes, it’s equally important for others to be able to learn from your experiences.
So there you have it. I know risky behavior can be scary and sometimes nerve-racking, but it is essential to your progression. In this weeks lecture, there was an activity which asked the students if they are individuals or conformists. About 2/3 of the students said individuals. I question the truth behind my own and the majority of the class’s response. We all attend one of the biggest college’s in the nation. I’m not saying that attending the University of Michigan isn’t a tremendous accomplishment, but it is not like we choice to alternative route to college. Almost every freshman I talk to mentions how they are desperately trying to get into Ross. After reading Mill’s chapter of On Liberty, I realize the importance of individuality. Take risks and learn from your mistakes. Learn from others experiences and let others learn from yours.