Is caution the flipside of risk?

By Ruth Hinkle

Can you be cautious and courageous at the same time?

This is the question that locked me into a ferocious argument with my grandfather when I was twelve. If you’re part of the family, you know that arguing with him is not smart because he is compelled to win even if he’s just plain wrong. (Sorry Grandpa, was that a secret?).

“For me, part of that strength meant knowing how to weigh risks with caution and to make “leaps of faith.”

For me, it was imperative that the answer to this question be yes. Otherwise, my cautious nature pegged me as a coward who lacked the guts to take risks. Now that I’m a little older (I saw that eye roll), I know that the answer must be yes because I am both cautious and courageous. Even as a child, this was true. I climbed trees without care for the distances I could fall and I learned to ride my bike without training wheels by falling and getting back up until I figured it out.

That determination is not the mark of a coward. After reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, it occurred to me that this argument was perhaps a symptom of the way society views introverts (the implication in Cain’s book is that cautiousness is common among introverts though not exclusive to them).

“It is a mistake to assume that cautiousness equals cowardice or even that risk-taking equals courage.”

Although I suspect my grandfather argued with me for the sake of being argumentative, the conversation stuck with me for years. It was troubling on some basic level. I aspired to being a person who has strength of character. For me, part of that strength meant knowing how to weigh risks with caution and to make “leaps of faith.”  Was I doomed to an existence where my practical and cautious nature would prevent me from truly living?

Based on how things are going now, the obvious answer is no. I am able to balance caution and courage in nearly equal measure and decide when one takes more precedent over the other.

Caution is not the absence of courage. Rather it is a tool that we can wield in the face of our fears or misadventures. Caution means being prepared for the known and wary of the unknown. It is a mistake to assume that cautiousness equals cowardice or even that risk-taking equals courage.

Ruth Hinkle is an IUPUI student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. She reads marketing blogs and fantasy novels in her free time. She celebrates Nerdfighteria and listens to 80s music at work. Follow @ruth_hinkle on Twitter!

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