To Be Human is to Be At Risk—Embrace It

In recent posts, I’ve explained the importance of valuing ourselves and others for who we are more than what we do. In fact, who we are is at risk, but we do everything possible to minimize it. And the harder we try, the more anxious, bitter and tedious we get.

In attempting to minimize all risk, are we losing the essence of who we are?

I thought about that as I read a fantastic commentary by Dave Barry contrasting parenting today with past generations. “By the standards of today,” he wrote, “the main purpose of human life is to eliminate all risk so that human life will last as long as humanly possible, no matter how tedious it gets.”

We open and close our garage doors, hope for nice neighbors and save for retirement. We try to stay secure but forget that there is no such thing as absolute security. Being human and alive means embracing the risks that we all face.

In A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser provides powerful reflections on the tragic loss of his mother, wife and daughter in a drunk driving accident. In the chapter “Why Not Me,” he reminds us of this important point:

“No one is safe, because the universe is hardly a safe place…Loss is no more a respecter of persons and positions than good fortune is.”


There are few places where you can find a more relentless focus on risk minimization than in corporations.  So it’s startling when corporations make massive changes affecting people’s security.

One of our largest local employers, Target Corporation, has been going through several rounds of difficult layoffs as they work through international expansion and responding to competition from internet retailers. Someone recently told me that morale at the once vibrant corporate office is dying, and you can read about it on a site that gives people a voice for their concerns.

Corporate injustice should not be tolerated. But to say that you or I or anyone else is entitled to job security is to forget who we are.

You are unsafe, you are at risk and you are human. That’s what makes you valuable.

It’s not your job title, your retirement plan, your job responsibilities, your tenure, your corporate culture or your current project that gives you value. It’s your ability to embrace the risk of life and the reward that comes from being human in the face of uncertainty.

Why you? Why not you? Don’t be bureaucratic and entitled. Be resilient and courageous.

Where are you currently trying to avoid the risk that comes with being human?



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  • Stacey Steen
    March 11, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    You’re right Matt, we are not our job title. A close friend of mine worked in leadership for 30+ years at Target Corp. He expected to eventually be laid off. It was a turbulent few years and the culture of change blew into the once vibrant Target. His successor was trained by him. He was moved from his corner office to a cubicle. He managed 60+ people and that dwindled to 2. The message was clear. He accepted the changes with dignity. I wonder though if treating an employee that served you for 30+ years should be pushed out the door this way. I know there are no easy answers to succession planning and changing business strategies from old to new. I hope Target can show some creativity in its downsizing plan; the same kind of dedication it poured into building Target Corp. Their employees deserve the upper hand, even when they are being let go!

  • Mike Norman
    March 12, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Matt, This is a very interesting commentary on retired life in SW Florida, affectionately know as “God’s waiting room”. It is a massive collection of retired people, a large percentage of whom thrived on risk as they pursued their definition of success. And now live in this utopia that seemingly is safe from those same risks that enabled us all to enjoy this life today. The irony is that those who attempt to eliminate risks from their lives generally die more quickly than those who don’t, either physically die or mentally and emotionally die. Most of us in this phase of life are seeking a clear definition of “who we are” today since we no longer have the titles, projects, and recognition brought by our careers. The key is to continue seeking and identifying those areas of life that support “who we are” so we can live a long and fulfilled life. Thanks for stimulating my thinking on this topic.