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.

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