Monthly Archives: January 2013

High risk, low reward

Last night I stepped into the path of an oncoming train. It wasn’t deliberate, though this qualification would not change the results if we happened to collide. You may ask why an intelligent, educated person would cross a well-marked, sign-posted set of light-rail tracks without looking. After a fair amount of thinking about this, the only honest answer I can provide is that I was distracted enough that I did not consider the consequences.

I occasionally observe in others the kind of behavior that I label “high-risk low-reward”. We’ve all seen examples of this, where one takes a gamble whose negative consequences are far worse than the possible rewards — darting into traffic to retrieve an item that is easily and cheaply replaced, for instance. In my case, I decided to forego the trouble of stopping my movement across the tracks long enough to swivel my head to the right and check for an almost-certainly nonexistent oncoming train. There’s the problem, of course: the word “almost”. Yes, the odds of a train being close enough to threaten me with grievous bodily harm are very strongly in my favor, but this is the kind of gamble you may only be able to lose once. The downside potential of paying off the loss is enormous (for me, my family, and employer), while the possible reward — saving 3 seconds of glancing, plus perhaps 45 seconds I would have to spend waiting for the train to pass — looks pretty paltry in comparison. I made myself a poster child for high-risk, low-reward behavior.

It’s worth noting that less than half an hour before this thoughtless decision, I prayed as I waited for the light-rail to arrive in downtown Portland. I asked for protection and swift travel as I went home. It’s tempting to think that the fact that I am here to type this tale is proof of the prayer’s efficacy. I certainly thanked the Lord for His mercy, whether He chose to intervene directly or not. The problem would come if I chose to depend on prayers for protection from all my bad decisions. All it would take is for me to forget once, if you see what I mean. Probably better to pray for protection and to make better choices — make it more of a team effort.

I was a rock (but I got better)

I read an article on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times (for some reason, they keep throwing it in our driveway, though we’ve never ordered it) about a family working through grief. [Link:]. It describes the family of Lt. Col. Paul Finken as they try to move forward years after his death on patrol in Afghanistan. Not too many years ago, I would have been impressed and thoughtful about such an article, but probably not moved. On Sunday, I wept openly.

I come from a tradition of stoicism and disengagement, where one appreciates the travails of others but does not connect emotionally, especially not with strangers. It would have been hard to imagine tears rolling down my face as they did on Sunday. That’s the difference that years of living with Karen and the girls has made in my life. Somehow, without knowing it, I made the decision that it was okay to feel strongly about a situation, to empathize enough to share someone’s pain. I have to say that I like the change and I have my family to thank for it.