By Randy Pierce
The recent tragic death of a young hiker in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains highlights the importance of risk management. In my presentations, I frequently attempt to address the notions of Risk vs. Reward as well as ways to evaluate and manipulate both risk and reward in our world. As a blind adventurer, these are important skills for me to develop. I often emphasize my desire to be a problem solver rather than a risk taker, despite my understanding that risk is rarely removed from even our most common activities–rather, we can try to minimize it to enhance the safety and enjoyment.
The concept of “Social Risk Management” is an all too rarely considered but highly powerful part of our every day interactions. Speaking at the University of New Hampshire course for Professor Brent Bell, I had the chance to explore this notion in a bit more depth. In most of our social interactions with strangers and even friends, there is an element of risk to our approach. Might we say the wrong thing and feel foolish, ignorant, or any of the many negative emotions which could arise from others’ response to our outreach? While there’s value to considering our approach to avoid unintended detriment, there is also value in finding the comfort to be ourselves and express ourselves. Understanding the many diverse social expectations takes time and exploration, especially early in relationships when those feelings of risk and caution are higher.
This caution is also a natural response for people who encounter something outside of their notions of typical. My blindness often falls into this “atypical” categorization, and as such silence is all too often people’s response as they worry how their words might offend me or even whether my blindness takes away too much of our commonality for easy communication. It’s amazing how quickly conversation eases this. Ultimately, we realize we are all people and that as humans we have vastly more in common than we have different. I find that the easiest approach is for me to reach out first because communication is an excellent way to help lower the feelings of risk and to develop comfort.
In this particularly potent winter, it’s a little amusing to realize that “ice breakers” are often what we need. My Dog Guide Autumn often serves as such an excellent ice breaker and conversation starter. “What a beautiful dog!” people will say. “What breed is she?” For others it may be as simple as an inquiry on the weather. It’s not that we are all infatuated with weather–it’s simply a low investment and low risk outreach. A gruff response can be interpreted as a person’s weariness of shoveling rather than feelings against us personally. Similarly a cheery response is the welcome sign which allows us to know we can stride forward with less risk to more meaningful conversations.
We undertake these social risks, of course, because for the “reward” part in the Risk vs. Reward equation. Growing or enhancing our community can expand so much of our potential that it is a very worthy reward and also a topic worthy of another more in-depth blog in the future. Of course, in simply writing this blog I’ve taken some social risks and your response to it will be a sign of the very reward I’m suggesting!