Writing a few days ago about how walking on the edge of a roof is great mindfulness training got me thinking in a couple of related directions.
One is that how risky something is usually is a combination of objective fact and subjective interpretation. The other is that the first thing I did after coming up with the name for this blog back in 2004, was decide on a subtitle.
Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence
The two ideas are related, in my own mind at least. I want people to make an informed decision about what sort of spirituality, if any, to pursue. To some extent that means looking at whatever facts exist about the spiritual options that most appeal to them.
But it also means that after looking at the same facts, various people are almost certainly going to interpret those facts in different ways.
This seems to be a universal feature of human nature.
Even in science, our most objective way of knowing reality, scientists engage in passionate disputes about how to view the same facts. Quantum theory, for example, is amazingly accurate in describing goings-on in the world of the very small. Yet there's no consensus among physicists as to how to interpret those goings-on.
(The "shut up and calculate" crowd even denies a need for interpretation.)
So I believe in allowing people a lot of latitude in how they decide to live their life, with the proviso that whatever decisions they come to aren't forced on others without good reason -- which typically is the role of government and elected officials.
Circling back to me walking on the edge of our roof to clean our gutters with a backpack leaf blower, I feel that I've thought out the pros and cons of this during the 25 years or so I've been doing this a half dozen or so times a year.
However, I also totally understand why someone -- such as my wife -- thinks this is an unwise thing to do. Partly she feels this way because Laurel has a different risk tolerance than I do.
I should add, physical risk tolerance.
Laurel is wonderfully gutsy when it comes to standing up for what she believes is right, even if she's in a decided minority, which happens fairly often with our neighborhood association where she's been a board member for many years. And my wife was a psychotherapist in private practice where she had to deal with domestically violent men and volatile family counseling situations.
Yet when I decided to get a motorcycle soon after we got married in 1990, my dream of us going off together on it vanished when, after one ride on our local street, she started yelling "slow down!" when I got up to 25 mph.
After that, I rode alone.
Which also was the case when in 2009, at the age of 60, I decided to get a 650 cc Suzuki Burgman scooter after selling the motorcycle after a couple of years. Numerous people advised me not to ride around on two motorized wheels, especially at my age.
That led me to write a blog post, "Older motorcycle riders, don't be scared by statistics."
Thus the risk of riding a motorcycle or scooter can be reduced by about 50% just by not being stupid, inattentive, or figuring that your handling skills are better than they really are.
Doing the sorts of common-sense risk-reduction things I mentioned above cuts down on the chance of gettting in an accident even further. However, no matter how careful a rider is, there's no getting around the fact that driving on two wheels is going to be more dangerous than getting around in a four-wheeled "cage" (as motorcyclists like to refer to cars).
Also, a lot more fun.
Which is why I ride, along with most motorcyclists and scooterers -- aside from those who can't afford a car and simply need a low cost means of transportation.
Back when I worked in health planning and policy research I became acquainted with the notion of balancing the quality and quantity of life. This often comes into play with living wills, where a person has to indicate how he or she feels about this sort of tradeoff.
Most people consider that extending the sheer quantity of life via time spent hooked up to a respirator, feeding tube, and such isn't worth the suffering and distress if one's quality of life is dirt-poor.
Similarly, virtually everybody is willing to take some risks in order to get more enjoyment out of life. Whether it is horseback riding, bicycling, getting on an airplane, or even driving to the weekly meeting of a knitting circle, doing something rewarding entails some risk-taking.
Again, this applies to both physical and non-physical risks. A stand-up comic is at very low risk of being physically injured while on stage, but they run a very high risk of being emotionally injured if their audience doesn't laugh, starts booing, or yelling out insults.
How many people are willing to take that risk? Not many. Yet I love stand-up comedy and applaud anyone willing to have the courage to open themselves up to that sort of potential ridicule.
Again, everybody is different.
Some people would rather have a root canal than speak in public. Others adore public speaking. They simply have different risk tolerances for the same activity. When I see another gray-haired/bearded old guy on a motorcycle, I think, "Way to go, man." Followed by, "I sure wish I still had my Burgman scooter."
Recently I saw a TV news story about an 82 year old man who took up pole vaulting again after an unremarkable high school career with the sport. He's cleared 9 feet, 1 inch, a record for his age group. Falling from nine feet, even onto a mat, has to be sort of risky for someone his age.
But he's enjoying pole vaulting.
Isett is the nation's best pole vaulter in his age group — and pretty much the only pole vaulter in his age group. He picked up the sport — for a second time — at age 66, five decades after an unremarkable high school career.
"It's fun," he said. "It's like going to high school again with nothing to study."
He has nothing to study but the physics of gravitational potential energy — and pain management. But Isett said it's worth the aches.
"It's a rush, exhilaration, when you clear a bar," he said.
At a meet last year, Isett cleared 9 feet, 1 inch. No octogenarian has ever done such a thing.
"What he does is absolutely insane," another teenager at the gym said.
Isett said he's not done setting records. He told CBS News he plans to stay fit and keep at this until he's 6 feet under.
It's amazing how many people are seriously injured for life, like brain trauma injury and lost limbs, which becomes a terrible tragedy as well as a burden on family for years, or who die, from recreational activity.
It all started out as fun.
You can cut your risk in half by driving safely. But you cannot cut the risk of being around another bad driver who elects to cross that little painted line coming towards you from the opposite direction..Then hand up palm, in moment of forgetfulness, you may think too late, "why did I buy a beautiful and safe car and not drive in it today?"
How odd the risk of one loose roof shingle, or one slick leaf, resulting in a fall, and a potential fatality. Who would have thought, right?
Sometimes it can't be helped.
And good on you for wearing a helmet.
I guess if you have lived with someone whose physical and mental impairments prevent them from ever doing any of those things, for their entire life, you appreciate how unnecessary those high risk activities are to havin an incredibly good time together.
And how sacred each moment together in peace and relative health is. Sacred enough to warrant respect for the gifts we have been given.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | November 08, 2021 at 10:37 AM
I had a friend named Attila who owned a Turkish restaurant. Great guy and great food. He and his family were fond of going to Vegas and playing slots. I had a conversation with Attila about house odds and risk, and like many gamblers he had difficulty understanding either.
I tried explaining the law of averages, telling him that if a coin is flipped a million times, the odds of it coming up heads or tails will always be precisely 50-50. The law of averages is the basis of risk calculation, and it's also the basis of every casino game. That is, the house always constructs their games so that they get a slight edge over the players. This edge means that the house will ultimately always make money, and the player will always ultimately lose money.
Attila has no idea what I was talking about, and believed in things like "playing skillfully" and "luck." Many people are like Attila and have very little actual understanding of risk.
Back when I had a bicycle I used to take enormous risks. I'd fly down hills at breakneck speed without a helmet. Now I won't even ride a bike, let alone a motorcycle. Why? Because I've seen that the risk of grave injury is substantially higher on two wheel locomotion than in a car.
Everything in life involves some risk, but that doesn't mean all risk is the same. The risk of walking on a roof without safety gear and speaking in public are not even remotely the same. No doubt risk in climbing concentrates the mind and can bring euphoria, hence the free climbing craze in rock climbing. So many expert climbers died, because they didn't understand that if they were at risk of one fall, it was only a matter of time before they did fall.
Last week, I came across a news story about a guy who was in those Police Academy movies. He played Captain Mauser. He just died recently, but 30 years ago he fell off his roof and has been a paraplegic in a wheelchair ever since. Not a fate I want.
I have leaves on an overhang I'd love to get rid off, and I sometimes contemplate climbing up there to get at them, a feat I often did when I was younger. Then I calculate the risk and decide it's not worth it.
Posted by: Tendzin | November 08, 2021 at 12:05 PM
Do not use motorcycle , use the pavement of Conscious Mind of Osho Rajneesh.
Posted by: Vinny | November 08, 2021 at 12:59 PM
I guess I take a few risks especially for my age (older than Brian!). I’ve walked the Snowdonia mountains in Wales for many years now - which includes a scramble occasionally. The interesting thing is that most of the injuries I’ve had have not been while on the potentially dangerous parts, but more on the easy-going grass routes or paths. It’s probably because, on the rocks the attention is focused on every step and hand-hold. Back on the easy paths, the mind often engages in habitual and often irrelevant thinking.
A few instances come to mind: a group of rock climbers staying at the hostel I was at came back that evening and one had his ankle bandaged up. I asked him if he had had a fall from the rocks. “No” he said, “My ankle went over on the roadside kerb walking back through the village”. And, my friend tripped over while we walked on a good farm track. breaking her finger. Three years ago, I skidded down a grassy hump and damaged my elbow joint – took two years to heal properly.
Perhaps, what are considered risky jobs or undertakings lead to accidents when the undertaking becomes blasé or indifferent to the dangers. I am reminded of how easy it is to be often ‘lost in thought’ and oblivious to what is happening now, being overtaken by quite often, abstract or repetitive thinking.
Posted by: Ron E. | November 09, 2021 at 04:11 AM
"Risk-taking is largely a personal decision"
..........Indeed. Without a shadow of a doubt. Unless you're putting others at risk --- as anti-vaxxers and the Proudly Maskless do --- you are at complete liberty to act as you like, even if that action is "risky" as far as your own person. I don't normally go out of my way to proffer advice on how to act to others, and my comment in the earlier thread was borne of nothing other than goodwill and concern (even though we've never actually physically met). Absolutely, what you do or don't do with your own person and your own life, that is no one's business but your own, and nor do you need to offer explanations to random internet busybodies to justify what you're doing.
That said, and moving this past your personal choices (which is what triggered this particular line of discussion), and taking this to an impersonal and abstract consideration of risks: Here's the thing, risk is something we all know and deal with, but something that we do not always apprehend correctly. What our gut tells us is not always a correct understanding of facts. To begin with, risk by itself is a meaningless metric. A rational, considered evaluation of risk is based always --- always, without exception --- by considering not one but two factors, risk on the one hand, and return on the other.
While I agree with your statement --- and let me emphasize, one more time, that unlike in the last thread I'm now not speaking about your roof-climbing specifically, or even at all, but only generally thinking my way on risks, and presenting those thoughts here, such as they are --- I was saying, while I agree with your statement that risk perceptions as well as the final decision about some particular risk are entirely a personal matter, nevertheless in order to rationally and correctly carry out this evaluation even at a personal level will involve looking at the returns, first and foremost; and alternative options at availing similar returns; and then a clear evaluation of the risks involved, both for the specific option we're considering, as well as for other comparable options. Unless we do all of that --- even if only mentally and informally --- we're then basically being led by our gut, and not necessarily wisely.
True, two people can have different risk appetites even about the exact same thing. Leaving aside the two guts of the two people leading them awry in different directions, even a careful consideration might sometimes legitimately lead to such. One factor might be the value they place on what is being risked. Another might be the value they put on the returns. Yet another difference might be the options available to the two. And finally there's the perception of the risk itself in the mind of each.
To focus only on the last, to the exclusion of the rest, would be ...to be inexact in one's evaluation. As far as the risk perception, again that is again made up of two components: one, where one's perception is led by actual knowledge, and another when it is just a gut feel.
If one is able to correctly evaluate all of these to arrive at one's decision, then to that extent one's decision is ...rational, defensible. To the extent one doesn't, it isn't. In either case, one is free to do as one wishes, obviously.
Sorry, long comment. I was basically thinking aloud. I found the subject, the thought, the discussion, kind of interesting, and took the liberty of giving the thought some shape by typing here rather than simply sitting with puckered brow. While the most obvious application of this would be to how we manage our investments, but in a way this extends to practically all decisions in our life. (The important ones, obviously. It would be silly to open a spreadsheet to evaluate every piddling thing one does. Although again, what is piddling and what isn't, that again is, again, not always wise to leave to one's gut to decide!)
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | November 09, 2021 at 06:03 AM
...I tried explaining the law of averages, telling him that if a coin is flipped a million times, the odds of it coming up heads or tails will always be precisely 50-50. The law of averages is the basis of risk calculation, and it's also the basis of every casino game. That is, the house always constructs their games so that they get a slight edge over the players. This edge means that the house will ultimately always make money, and the player will always ultimately lose money.
Attila has no idea what I was talking about, and believed in things like "playing skillfully" and "luck." Many people are like Attila and have very little actual understanding of risk...
Posted by: Tendzin | November 08, 2021 at 12:05 PM
Speaking only about the portion I've quoted, and without addressing your larger argument, I have to say, I'm not sure you're apprehending the idea of risk correctly. I may be mistaken, of course, about whether this applies to you, but it is a fact that even people who do know a thing or two about statistics aren't always clear about how to correctly interpret statistical data.
To begin with, the law of averages is simply a logical/statistical fallacy. There is no law of averages, except as a fallacy in the minds of people.
And further, while you're generally wise to advise your friend not to overdo his gambling, but I don't think you're right to advise him that luck plays no legitimate part in helping him at the slot machines. Sure, over a very large number of readings the measure will tend to the expected value, but it is perfectly possible for a single individual punter to luck out, and even to luck out spectacularly, and even repeatedly.
So that, if your friend and his wife really actually enjoy the whole gambling experience, and if they are able to limit their outlay to what they can afford (and what they can justify to themselves as simply entertainment), then it is quite possible that they might actually luck out and make a real killing, why not? Luck is not irrelevant, at all, to how a single punter's bets might go at some time.
Sorry, this is more by way of a nitpick than anything else. It is possible that you're aware of this, and it is only your expression (and/or my reading of your words) that led me to think otherwise. And of course your general advice to your friend is very wise, generally speaking, since the gambler rarely bases his bets on a rational evaluation of these underlying factors. But since this discussion now is specifically about risk, I thought perhaps emphasizing this nuance might not be out of place.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | November 09, 2021 at 06:20 AM
Is all the climb-shaming and bone-shaming appropriate in this day and age? Someday humans will evolve into gelatinous brain blobs with tentacles. Then we'll be sorry.
Posted by: swami umami | November 09, 2021 at 08:11 AM
You're correct that the popular definition of "law of averages" is a fallacy. I should have cited "the law of large numbers" --> "the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value and will tend to become closer to the expected value as more trials are performed."
So since the probability of a coin flip is 50-50 heads/tails, the mean average will always remain 50-50. The variance of the short term average is unpredictable and random. In respect to gambling, "luck" in the short term is always a possibility, but luck can't change the long term probability of the house coming out ahead. That's because all house games are not constructed to offer 50-50 probability, and so the house knows that despite short term luck of a random number of players, their eventual profit is assured by the skewed probability of the game.
Having belabored that, the question then is maybe "so what"? But this apparent law of averages or large numbers has fascinated me every since I read about it in Dilbert creator Scott Adam's short book God's Debris. http://images.ucomics.com/images/pdfs/sadams/godsdebris.pdf
Posted by: Tendzin | November 09, 2021 at 09:47 AM
Clearly we're in full agreement here, so I'm not in any way differing from your POV, only emphasizing one part of this that isn't fully clear from how you word your post:
True, the house always wins. As such, we, the clients, as a collective, always lose.
But it is quite possible for an individual punter to make an absolute killing, short term. It is also possible --- the odds become lower now, but it is still quite possible --- for one individual punter, say you or me or your friend Attila, to keep winning fairly consistently, should luck keep smiling on us.
(This, incidentally, is largely why I wrote that last post of mine. Because your previous post seemed to suggest that the law of averages will prevent your friend from keeping on winning. It won't. Neither the law of averages, nor the law of large numbers, says anything to your friend's chances of winning some weekend [or ever over a few months of weekends], because that's just random. I realize now, from your clarification, that that isn't what you'd meant to convey.)
So that, as long as one doesn't get carried away, and provided that kind of experience speaks to us and is fun for us and agrees with us, we can end up both having fun as well as winning at gambling, if we're lucky.
The key, of course, is to know when to stop. And to forget all bullshit about "skill" in games of chance.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | November 09, 2021 at 10:14 AM
Hey, that's a cool link, Tendzin. Glanced through quickly, just now. Bookmarked, for later on.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | November 09, 2021 at 11:27 AM
Just to clarify the point I was trying to make about risk: My understanding of the law of averages (or large numbers, or probability), an understanding that I largely owe to Mr. Adam's book, has changed the way I approach a lot of areas of my life.
One application that I think works well in the spiritual marketplace arena: If a particular claim of a religion hasn't been demonstrated, what are the odds that the claim is true?
Appyling this to RS, I could ask myself how many people have had the conscious experience of going through inner planes to Sach Khand as described by Swami Shiv Dayal. The evidence that anyone has done this is thin, and therefore the probability that I could achieve this feat must also be thin. But as a naive spiritual seeker, I was like many people who felt "if it's in a book by a guru it must be true" and hied along the path of meditation to make it so.
Applying risk/benefit analysis to other areas of my life is also useful. The first question I ask when someone is selling me on a scheme, say day trading, which I unfortunately indulged in some years ago, is "who out there is making a living doing this." The answer is hardly anyone, a hard fact I only learned from hard experience.
When I was younger I had sublime confidence in my physical abilities. But my understanding of risk and probability has made me very risk adverse. It's something like judging house odds -- if there's a 77% probability that everyone who drives a vehicle will be in an accident (and there is), then my chance of being in an accident isn't a matter of if, but when. For that reason I prefer to have armor around me when I'm on the road, or just bow out of any physical activity that where risk of breaking my neck is at all present.
Posted by: Tendzin | November 09, 2021 at 11:53 AM
If you can see the most fabulous vistas within, standing on the roof becomes a little less interesting.
If you can experience being pulled up within, into light and stars, then a little motor scooter ride is going to become a little less interesting. And at no risk.
But if you cannot stand the work required to go there, if it isn't love for you, then, roof, here I come. Carefree highway, let me slip away, slip away on you.
Do what you love in the safest way possible. But do what you love.
Find that love that you find yourself loving more than yourself. Whatever that is, worship that. There is your happiness, at least for a time.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | November 09, 2021 at 12:29 PM
There are risks in everything you do, but the biggest risk is falling for a Guru that portrays himself as a god. I do have proof of this risk , and it is myself. I've been trapped in RSSB, with Gurinder Dhillon for most of my life. Until I learned to go with my inner gut feeling that something isn't right here. I did a simple Google search and found within minutes that my gut was right. GSD is a dangerous, evil man, who only has his own best interest at heart. How can he have taken billions from his own nephews and tried to hide the money with his wife, now died related to stress, and sons. The crook is exposed.
Posted by: Uchit | November 11, 2021 at 02:36 PM
Ah, we must all fall off the roof sometime, metaphorically speaking.
I think a good guiding principle in the choices (what's that, did somebody say choices? Heretic!) we make is "be kind, to oneself and others. Especially oneself. And especially others". Whatever course of action that may lead us to is unique to every one of us (thank Brahma!).
Personally, I'd like to consider ways to maximise rewards whilst minimising risks.
Hmm, I do wonder?
Perhaps I shall sit down a nice cup of mushroom tea and ponder this question longer, until an answer comes to me?.........
Posted by: manjit | November 20, 2021 at 05:29 AM