Thursday, April 4, 2019

Three Things Thursday, Issue #24

3.31.2019. Coal Creek. Rosie. 


I think a great deal about the concept of "risk". Recently a guide and mentor initiated an online discussion of all aspects of risk. I made the following comments, and think they deserve a more permanent home. The initial discussion prompt was wide-ranging and open-ended.

  •  I'm fascinated with the concept of risk... In every way. Especially as it pertains to our pursuit of mountain sports. And to our shared public policies and perspectives. And everything in between. We often get really confused about what is risky and what is scary. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they are not. Good mountain risk management identifies all four quadrants on the scary/risky matrix (scary and risky, scary and not risky, not scary and risky, not scary and not risky). Those with good life skills effectively separate those same four quadrants in all parts of life. We have major and collective issues when we conflate the four quadrants of the scary/risky matrix.
  •  Also, I find I do better at so-called "risk management" when I realize that risk is part of what I seek in the mountains. I hypothesize that even the most self-identified "risk averse" among us somehow value the risks. Do the mental exercise: Would you like doing what you do in the mountains if you eliminated (or even truly and meaningfully reduced) the risks? What's the difference between top-roping and leading? Really, it's just risk. We like the risk. We need to own that. We don't go to the mountains with risk on one end of a tug-of-war rope and our goals on other. Our goals involve tangling with the risks. It's all tangled together. We each have our own "risk tolerance", but even that phrasing is flawed. We don't just tolerate it. We seek it. Even those of us that that really don't like the idea of being labeled "risk seeking".
  • On my first read-through I missed your prompt about "post event mental trauma". I'm no psychologist, but since when has that stopped anyone?... In watching and accompanying many others as they respond, emotionally, to mountain emergencies, it seems that the greatest correlation is with pre-event mindset. Those that are "surprised" by some sort of loss to the mountains battle the most. Those that understand, accept, own, and even embrace the potential costs, before the fact, are best equipped to deal with the inevitable (yes, inevitable... the mountains will take at least something from every one of us that practices in the mountains) losses. The best defense is a good offense; the best thing we can do for ourselves to prepare for that inevitable loss is to visualize and process and accept that loss, before it occurs (that being said, likely the absolute worst thing we can do for someone who has just suffered a loss is to point out its inevitability and to point out how "it is what we signed up for"). If you find yourself pondering some version of "I just couldn't handle it/forgive myself/envision/sleep at night if my partner/spouse/client/guide/friend/neighbor/random stranger died in the mountains", ponder on and dig deep. Do the mental work now, before facing it unprepared.

Bonus comment, and my favorite from the thread. Credit to Canada's mountain risk-management guru himself, Grant Statham. Grant is (or at least was) employed by the Canadian federal government to ponder mountain risk management, particularly as it pertains to avalanche safety in their National Parks. He's also got a long and deep resume of rad mountain endeavors, personally and as a mountain guide. 

It's interesting how almost every risk discussion focuses on loss, including these comments. This perspective provides a dramatic, but incomplete picture of risk. Most people here are reporting their encounters with loss (injury, death) but few are talking about gain (success, life). Invert every one of these stories of loss and you will find a gain that was not realized. This is important because positive consequences are the reason we accept risks in the first place. Risk is not risk without a potential gain, however small or esoteric it might be. I think we do the concept of risk a disservice when we join the rest of society and focus the discussion on loss alone.

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