The Antidote to Risk Aversion

Ben Domenech has a rousing post on The Federalist about the risk aversion of Millennials:

There is comfort in the safety gained. But, slowly and surely, there is something lost, too—an idea that once lived here, in this new world. It was a belief that we are not prisoners of our destiny, that the world we pass on can exceed the one we were born into. This is not a uniquely American belief, but a human one, although not all cultures acknowledge or honor it. It was here in America where this belief was uniquely understood from our inception in our creed. We are born with an equal claim to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of what lies beyond that far horizon. To deny this is to break faith with our own humanity, rejecting what is best in ourselves.

His most striking detail, though, is an anecdote from Megan McArdle, from 2014, which I think I’ve read before, but to which Domenech applies a new context.  

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Here’s McArdle:

The other day, after one of my talks, a 10th-grade girl came up and shyly asked if I had a minute. I always have a minute to talk to shy high school sophomores, having been one myself.

And this is what she asked me:

“I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?”

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is “America, you’re doing it wrong.”

If these writers have identified a real trend, I fear their results will be akin to those who attempted to argue the importance of traditional marriage on grounds of tradition alone.  The challenge of our comfortable existence is to re-articulate the logic that culture allowed us to take for granted in understanding what sorts of people we should be.

The antidote to risk aversion isn’t a rousing speech, but a reason to take risks.  If we’re not going to throw our children out of the nest and expect them to fly or die, such lessons can’t be taught as dogma — as in, “a life with risk taking is a better life.”  They’ll only ask: Why, and by what measure?  America can’t just give the kids permission to take risks; we need to give them an intuitive sense of what they gain by doing so.

This topic merits further thought, and I’m aware that my initial prescription will seem all too obvious to readers who know the basis of my thinking, but the most plainly missing piece is spiritual.  The existential security of a loving God who constitutes the point of our lives — the intention of the universe — makes the risk of a difficult class or a dangerous occupation a relatively minor consideration.

In materialist terms, we can attempt to resolve McArdle’s 10th-grade acquaintance’s dilemma by getting adults with jobs to give to value students’ experimentation over perfection.  How much more fundamental and important, though, if young adults weren’t acting in anticipation of an employer’s judgment after their schooling is complete, but divine judgment of the quality of our lives?

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