In our modern snowflake society, is the concept of risk vs. reward dead?
By chance I happened to be watching the now infamous Pittsburgh Steeler/Cincinnati Bengals football game. This was the game that contained hard hits, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and a player suffering a serious spinal injury. Then we had the game this past weekend where quarterback Tom Savage of the Houston Texans was hit so hard his body involuntarily convulsed for all to see. The Texans would later let Savage play in another series before yanking him from the game for good.
After the Steelers/Bengals game Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins gave the type of answer I often hear football players recite when asked about the violence in their sport, “This is what we signed up for. If you don’t want to do it, don’t play. Ain’t nobody forcing you.”
Yes, football is a violent sport that can inflict serious long-term damage both mentally and physically on those who play it at a high level. But the caveat is, if you change football too much to accommodate player safety it becomes unwatchable and pointless. Knowing what I know now, if I were young and had the talent I’m not sure I would risk having an NFL career. Like Josh Norman and others, I would have to balance out the risk vs. the reward of playing professional football. Are the benefits of money, fame, and the thrill of it all worth it?
Most everyone of us will never have to ask such questions as those facing those talented enough to consider an NFL career. Still, looking at the current American landscape I am concerned that too many of our fellow citizens are now so risk averse that we as a society are suffering.
Take the growing momentum of millennials to support socialism and communism over capitalism. Without question, a society that practices free market capitalism will do much better than a socialized or a communistic society. From North and South Korea to East and West Germany the evidence is overwhelmingly self-evident. But when you boil it down to its core, hasn’t the selling point of communism and socialism always been risk aversion? Earning a living in the free market can be unpredictable. Why not replace it with a safety net of cradle to grave welfare? The reality, of course, is such thinking leaves a society much poorer. We should be raising a generation of entrepreneurs and capitalists. Instead, out of fear of risk, we are raising a generation who in growing numbers are so risk adverse they would rather live in their parents’ basements as adults than face the rigors of life.
But the younger generation is not alone in our current risk aversion crisis. Since the end of the baby boom, Americans have given up on the idea of having children at the rate they once did. In part because having children involves large financial and emotional risks. Better to stay childless and unencumbered of the emotional rollercoaster that comes with having children.
Of course, once Americans decided having children was no longer considered necessary for a fulfilled life, it was predictable that the next generation would take it a step further and would eventually stop believing in the institution of marriage. After all, to fall in love and make a lifetime commitment based on those feelings is to be exposed to emotional and financial risk of a failed relationship. Better to ride out life alone, as being single and childless is at least a known as opposed to an unknown. Who cares if statistically people are better off and live longer when they have families as opposed to being single.
Our society demurs at even minimal risk-taking. How many of us run to the hand sanitizer every time we touch something and refuse to shake hands of both people we know and strangers? We don’t want to risk coming down with a cold or flu, even if recent findings are showing we are creating superbugs and lessening our own immune system in the process.
I’m not suggesting you go out and become a daredevil or decide to run the risk of letting linebackers flatten you in your pursuit of glory. Who am I to tell you how to live your life? But life is a participation sport, and a little exposure to risk every now and again is a good thing.