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Life itself is risky business

By Ben Carson

This anxiety about risk permeates our society and impacts it in countless ways. Good. Bad. Ugly. And sometimes ridiculous. It’s why we have a surgeon general’s warning on every pack of cigarettes, but also why McDonald’s now gives customers notice that their hot coffee is … well, actually hot, and why those annoying and scratchy tags sewn into the seams on our mattresses and pillows threaten legal action if removed. It’s why every medical patient now has the right of informed consent, and why so many of my doctor friends must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for liability coverage. It’s why sound-minded individuals seeking immediate medical care and their highly educated, experienced caregivers have to call an insurance company and wait for some 19-year-old clerk to give approval for a procedure or treatment he or she has never heard of and probably can’t even spell. It’s why we have seat belts and shatter-resistant windshields in our cars and metal detectors at the doors of schools, hospitals, and other public buildings. It’s why we have childproof prescription bottles and tamperproof seals on milk jugs. It’s why, for a time during the final stages of writing this book, the airline industry responded to a new round of terrorist threats with a total ban on liquids in carry-ons, which necessitated that passengers finish their coffee, chug that bottled water, and squeeze those tiny packets of dressing onto their salads before boarding. It is also why ladders are now sold with attached notices warning about the possibility of falls, why some Halloween superhero costumes include the disclaimer “Cape does not enable user to fly,” and why one manufacturer attached to its product a detailed warning notice that read, “Do not use if this sticker has been removed!”

How did we become so intrigued by risk — and so worried about it at the same time?

My psychiatrist friends might offer some complex Freudian answers to this question, buy my conclusion is more pragmatic — even simplistic. Like the adventurer who was asked why he climbed the mountain and answered, “Because it’s there!” I think our culture has developed this intense love-hate relationship with risk, in part because it’s always there. I think we’ve learned more about risk than any other generation in history because we can.


From Take the Risks by Ben Carson, M.D., with Gregg Lewis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008). Excerpted with permission.

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