Risk

The Right To Take (Even Really Stupid) Risks

The value of life is determined not by the mere drawing of one breath after another, but by the freedom to make our own decisions.

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Motorcycle
Ethan Hausman

There's nothing like the feeling of a motorcycle sliding out from beneath you on a busy thoroughfare to focus the mind beautifully on the value of life. As your ass bounces from the cushioned seat toward the hard tarmac with the screech of unseen cars slamming on their brakes to your rear, you have one glorious moment in which to ask yourself: "What the hell am I doing?"

You see, that's the precise question that flashed through my mind as my accelerating rear wheel spun helplessly on an oil slick and 400lbs of Japanese machinery cushioned its fall with 170lbs of J.D. Tuccille.

My left elbow slammed against the asphalt before I had time to consider the answer.

But to a large extent, it's the question itself that matters the most: "What the hell am I doing?" Sooner or later most of us ask that same question. We ask it when we're doing something foolish, or brave, or unfamiliar, and we especially ask it when the situation goes sour—when we find ourselves airborne in late-morning traffic. And if we don't ask it of ourselves, somebody else is sure to do us the favor: "What the hell are you doing?"

The question means that we're taking risks, trying something new, or just pushing the boundaries of our usual behavior. It means that we're living, not just existing; to pass through life without facing that question would imply a tightly constrained existence lacking risk and adventure.

Not every situation that provokes the question is to our credit, of course. Sometimes we've made a mistake, sometimes we've embarrassed ourselves, and sometimes we've made a complete balls-up of a situation and we find ourselves staring up from the ground into the face of an Emergency Medical Technician. And whether we decide that our latest venture was a moment of glory or shame, it's a sure bet that somebody else views our decision with disdain; we all have our own lives, and our own very different standards by which to judge them.

But it's important to remember that while everybody has the right to ask the question of himself and others, only the person on the spot, the person living that moment has the right to decide whether the answer is justifiable—so long as that person also bears the costs and consequences of the answer, that is. And that is what gives life so much of its value. We have the right to try, to risk dignity and even death as we take the basic fact of existence and mold it into a life worthy of the name through a personal choice of experiences, occupations, and adventures.

So when others try to answer the question for us, to prevent us from taking the risk because they don't approve, they don't just do us a disservice—they rob us of the freedom that gives life its value. Through laws and taxes and regulations they try to consign us to an existence instead of a life; and this is not because the decisions they would make for us are necessarily bad decisions, but because they are not our own.

Stretcher
U.S. Navy

Some people—not enough—do understand this. After the accident, when the EMTs had assured themselves that my limbs were all in place and that I remembered my name, one turned to me and said: "And now for the important question: How's the bike?" (Answer: Not so good.) As an EMT he had certainly seen his share of nasty motorcycle accidents—incidents that ended with consequences more serious than my broken arm. But he understood, or at least respected, my decision to ride and to take risks that others find unacceptable.

We have the right to demand that attitude of everybody: disagree with us, call us fools, live your own lives differently, but don't try to tell us what decisions we may make in the conduct of our lives. Because the value of life is determined not by the mere drawing of one breath after another, but by the freedom to make our own decisions; to mold our lives as best we can into a shape that pleases us, and to enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences.

What the hell was I doing? I was living my life. Now hand me my helmet or get out of the way.

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  1. My left elbow slammed against the asphalt before I had time to consider the answer.

    The correct terminology is “that’s when the ground came up and hit [my elbow].”

    Now that the proglodyte feel-gooders can’t abide by any activity that isn’t socialized, get used to “What in the hell are you doing with my money?

  2. Seems that rock climbers who take the plunge always ‘die doing what the love’, and they are noble people as a result.
    Why, if someone chooses to smoke tobacco, and finally kicks off as a result, are they not noble people?

    1. Its one of those “don’t speak ill of the dead” things. Yes, he was essentially doing an activity that he would probably not get old enough to retire from, but fuckit. The sad ones are the ones like they had around me where the dude who loved scuba diving in caves took his 16 year old son with him in brand new gear and they both died. (SLD: not something that should be illegal.)

      1. I remember reading about that. Awful.

    2. Climbing up rocks is hard.
      Smoking is easy.

      1. Dead or In Jail|2.10.14 @ 4:06PM|#
        “Climbing up rocks is hard.
        Smoking is easy.”

        OK, so?

        1. So effort equals virtue, regardless of result. It doesn’t matter whether what you do is wise or foolish, honest or dishonest, peaceful or brutal, useful or counterproductive, if it required you to make sacrifices do things that were difficult or unpleasant then what you did was virtuous.

          It’s an insane moral philosophy based on the morality of sacrifice.

    3. In my experience in the medical field, a ton of the indigent patients and patients on medicaid are often smokers. To me, any nobility of choice has been effectively dampened by me paying for their healthcare as a result of their decisions. If you want to take risks with your life, you need to take full responsibility for the consequences, be it a broken arm from a motorcycle accident or lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. Damn it people! TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT YOU DO!

      1. In my experience in the medical field, a ton of the indigent patients and patients on Medicaid are often smokers. To me, any nobility of choice has been effectively dampened by me paying for their healthcare as a result of their decisions.

        Okay, one more time:

        Smokers die early and save you tax money. It’s the healthy person who lives to 105, and spends 40 years on Medicare and 10 years long-term care on Medicaid that runs up the huge tab.

  3. 170 lbs? Do you even lift, bro?

    1. 163 pounds now (the accident was 18 years ago). I lift, trail-run and do metabolic workouts.

      1. Next question: Do you actually eat?

        1. I feast on my vanquished foes.

          1. Maybe you should win more, bro.

          2. Next question: who is taller, you or Peter Dinklage?

            1. I heard Dinklage isn’t a dwarf in real life, he just plays one as his character.

              1. And as every character he has ever played. Must be rough getting type cast as a dwarf so early in your career.

          3. So that’s a no?

            An adult male. 163 pounds. *walks away, muttering and shaking head*

            1. Jeez. I’d be ecstatic if I could get to 150. Though I’ll admit I could do a lot mroe muscle building exercise.

        2. I hear he lives on organic wheat screenings and yak milk yogurt.

  4. only the person on the spot, the person living that moment has the right to decide whether the answer is justifiable.

    But Society will be forced to care for you, so the Tonys of the world get to decide what is too foolish for your amusement.

    You’re living in the past, J D.

  5. DITCH THAT TRACTOR AND GET A REAL MOTORCYCLE.

    1. Paint it green and hitch it to the 5-bottom.

  6. How could you not label those two photos “Before” and “After”?

    1. I’m pretty sure the first one is actually Mickey Rourke in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

  7. “What the hell am I doing?”

    I, too, have asked myself that in between the seat and the asphalt. Time goes real slow once you’re not on the bike anymore.

  8. Hold my beer, watch this.

  9. Progs on NBC are squawking about head injury in the Olympics with an attempt to related it to the NFL.

    1. One of the chicks doing snowboarding whacked her head on the ice but good. Shattered the back of her helmet.

      She finished the course. Got some real stones, she does. Finished out of the medals, though.

  10. Dress for the slide not for the ride.

  11. my buddy’s mother-in-law makes $67 every hour on the laptop . She has been without work for 6 months but last month her paycheck was $20269 just working on the laptop for a few hours. find out this here…….
    http://www.Jobs84.com

  12. One person’s unacceptable risk is another person’s “Damn that was fun”. If all we get to do is what the first allows, we get to eat pablum and drink milk, with no fun of any kind.

    Each person needs to be free to take their own risks with what they own, including themselves.

    1. “and drink milk, with no fun of any kind.

      Each person needs to be free to take their own risks with what they own, including themselves.”

      But if it is raw milk that is walking on the wild side.

  13. As the Toyota Scion switched lanes right into me as I was heading on to the Hwy 101 freeway on my VROD, I remember distinctly thinking, “this isn’t going to end well.” The SOB didn’t even have the temerity to stick around. Apparently, I was saved from being run over by all the Priuses that Northern California progs drive because my bike was on the pavement behind me, and I’m sure they didn’t want to scratch their commuter lane stickers on my Harley. After waking up right as the EMTs were working on me, it took me a few seconds to remember what year it was, and to count how many broken bones I had.

    I tell the story because you can ride a motorcycle in the communist lane -er, commuter lane, here. Given the result, I certainly was left thinking “what the hell am I doing!”

  14. I have a problem when your actions affect me. When an accident occurs, the emergency personnel are not available for other calls, traffic is slowed or stopped, and people in the hospital sit in the emergency room as you are tended to. When people try to beat a train and are struck by the train, thousands of people wait an hour or more for the emergency crew to deal with the casualties and the incident to be investigated. This has happened to me numerous times over the years. And this ignores the emotional toll on the people who witness the results of your actions.

    While you may acknowledge that there are risks involved, I don’t believe that you would take the risk if you believed that it would happen to you.

    1. So we can only take risks if you’re not inconvenienced?

      1. Of course you fucking peon. Who do you think you are, inconveniencing John07 with your untimely demise?

      2. Of course. I have no problem with race car drivers risking life & limb to drive the fastest in an oval course. Or for that matter, people scuba diving in underwater caves.

        But when you include risks like heavy drinking & driving, which has the potential to injure others, I take issue with that.

  15. Using our minds and abilities is how we survive as human beings. It is what makes us human. Taking on challenging tasks or taking risks using our skills and abilities can lead to extraordinary feelings of personal power and adds to our sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem. It is this sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem that the meddlers are out to destroy. They are envious and it offers evidence of their own lives of compromises. It is the same envy that drives people to destroy any success in life.

  16. Beautiful article, thanks for sharing this.

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