Risk Assessment

I remember getting this call from the General Secretary of the United Church of Canada, my official employer. Nora and I have never met. We know of each other but have never worked together on any committee or project. We don’t even know people in common. Still she was calling to congratulate me on something, I do not remember. She ended the conversation with, “I understand you are a risk taker.” I was not sure what she meant but since the conversation was so positive and it came at the end of our chat I just said, “Thanks for the call” and hung up.

What does it mean to be a “risk taker”? I assume people who take risks are likely a combination of foolish and courageous, and depending on the tone of voice used to offer this evaluation, the weight placed on one of these two descriptors likely takes precedence. Some folks by their nature are risk averse, some lean into risk. When Kim and I met our financial planner for the first time she gave us a series of questions meant to tease out whether we were people who lived with risk or who avoided risk. She wanted to know what to do with our money. Obviously there are pros and cons to risk, the pro being that you open yourself to new things and new people and that in doing so you reduce the possibility you will have regrets at the end of your life about the “road not taken”. The con should be obvious, you court disaster, you place what you’ve worked hard to achieve in a very tenuous place and everything can be undone in a very rapid sequence of events.

Ironically I am very, very risk averse when it comes to driving and any interactions with technology or machines. I just don’t trust my ability to make good decisions with these devices. I am also very risk averse when it comes to money, almost comically so. I may be the most conservative person when it comes to money that I know. I assume spending too much will always come back to haunt me, others. Having so few marketable skills I tend to think that what resources I have accumulated are finite, and therefore it is best to conserve them.

But in matters of human interaction I am a risk taker, I will say and do things in the company of others that most would never dare to do. My preaching is risky, my studies are risky, what I say in public, what I write for public consumption, is risky. For 8 years I have juggled 3 jobs knowing full well that in spite of doing each one over and above the specified commitments one slip up, one mistake, forget one task, and the other employers will demand I stop this crazy work schedule. So the pressure never to drop one ball is intense. Doing this is a risk.

I think being a follower of Jesus makes you a risk taker. Jesus lived on the edge, in every way he took risks never knowing for certain the outcome of his actions. But I think what we often forget is the spirit of his risk, it was love, love to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Jesus never risked for his own sake, to be self-righteous, to hurt people. But Jesus would risk relationship and possibly hurting someone if he thought there was a cause of justice, if he felt others were being hurt and someone had to speak and act in truth.

I think, in the end, the question of our risk depends on the motivation for the risk, is it about us or others? Is the risk about justice or just us? This is what I hold in the back of my mind as I determine whether to risk or play it safe. I confess I often get this wrong. But I do know where to turn when the possibility to risk arises.