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Are Risk-Takers Selfish?




Yesterday I was reading the latest Outside magazine. It was their annual “Danger Issue,” covering stories about extreme athletes who risk their lives to climb rocks and sheets of ice, free dive to depths of 300+ feet, slackline hundreds of feet above the ground, perform kamikaze aerobatics in planes, jump off thousand foot cliffs and free-fall down fifty foot waterfalls in kayaks.

Editor Christopher Keyes opened the article with a discussion of the range of reactions the magazine has seen over the years towards people who pursue these dangerous activities. He references an article published in the May 2011 issue of Outside that profiled free soloist climber Alex Honnold, who became famous for scaling iconic Yosemite routes sans ropes or protection.

“There’s one camp that simply appreciates his audacity summed up by this post: “It’s a skill to be admired, not ridiculed. If he dies doing what he loves so be it.” The other camp views him as a complete lunatic: “He’s a selfish idiot who has no regard to what happens when he dies.”

This got me thinking again about something I’ve pondered in the past. Would I rather die while surfing or in a car crash on the freeway? While exploring a foreign land or on my couch from a heart attack? I have a lot of adventurous friends far more dare-devilish than me and am curious to know your opinion on this topic.

Do you see your craving for adventure as a selfish pursuit or something more like fate or destiny that you can’t help but do?




8 Responses to “Are Risk-Takers Selfish?”

  1. Ben Horton says:

    Shannon, first of all, what are your thoughts? Do you think it’s selfish? As with anything I don’t believe there is a black and white answer to this. It depends. I personally see some “risk” sports as being based on skill and safety, while others are based on seeing how close you can come to dying without actually dying. Base jumping from lower and lower hights is taunting death, while climbing is based on skill, technicality, and safety. One of the life lessons that I’ve learned in the last few years is that your life is not your own, it is also connected to those you love. If you die, even doing what you love, how does that affect the people you love? If there is nobody who depends on you then go for it, but i feel bad for whoever has to scrape the body up after a 3000 foot fall. So yeah, it’s selfish, but think of how adventure sports have improved our lives! We are the type of people who would not be happy on a couch, so we’d probably just make everybody around us miserable if that was our lifestyle anyway. To a point, I think that adventure sports, empower people, gives us confidence, and relieves the stress of the world we live in, but it is possible to take it too far. At a certain point, there is a possibility that we are getting braver, not better.

    • Thanks for your insight Ben! I agree with all of that. I think people who know and care about someone who’s adventurous realize that’s what makes him tick and if it was taken away, she would no longer be the same person. But I also agree that when one is providing for a family it’s a whole other ball game and certain concessions must be made. I also agree that “risky” things can be done responsibly and with monotonous, careful planning, to minimize potential harm, just like buckling one’s seat belt in a car.

  2. Nice job Shannon! Jared describes it as a balance between benevolence and selfishness!

  3. I think it all depends on what you leave behind. As a climber, you are a aware of the risks that you actively participate in. I think it is selfish if you have dependents and a family. Friends count, but I think it is better to die doing something you love than to die zoning out.

    this link is really good, the video is sort of short but he talks about the risk involved in a dangerous thing like climbing.

  4. Hunter says:

    Hi Sha!
    I was lucky enough to voice my opinion in person, but for the group, this is my take: Airplane pilots don’t die doing what they love if they die in a plane crash. The pilot dies while CRASHING, not flying. And pilots hate crashing (but it is good to have a few under your belt).
    Freedivers drown. Skydivers go splat or get chewed up in their wives’ planes’ propeller. Racecar drivers and normal motorists die whilst crashing.
    If I die of a heart attack while fishing at the local fishin’ hole, I didn’t die doing what I loved. I died of a heart attack and I’m pretty sure that sucks!

    To sum it up, the only good time to die is when you are good and ready. Nothing was left unsaid and no activity, food or thought was left unsampled.

    • Thanks for sharing cuz! I hear what you’re saying, so it’s kind of a catch 22, because in order to have nothing left unsaid, no activity, food or thought unsampled, a person exposes themselves to the risks of drowning, smashing and crashing along the way! DOH, life is a little trickster.

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