This couple was known for their thorough preparation and meticulousness with which they would go about every aspect in their routine. They believed in organization so much that everything was dictated by a rule. The menu at home was standardized, the budgets well planned, social calls neatly scheduled and even holidays programmed to the hour. The idea was to avoid uncertainty of any kind. When they started looking out for a groom for their daughter, an exhaustive list of parameters was drawn up. This included age, qualification, family background, looks, earning potential, social skills, clean habits and other such factors. The list by itself was quite understandable but the expectation was a score of a perfect ten in each factor. The logic was to de-risk the choice and be ‘certain’ about their daughter’s marital bliss. The search went on for four years and the ‘ideal groom’ didn’t materialize. Meanwhile, the girl chose her partner whom the parents approved reluctantly. While the girl is happily married, the parents’ regret remains that the groom is hardly a ‘six’ on their ten points scale.

Not for a moment is the approach or attentiveness being trivialized here. It would be silly not to do due diligence when one is looking out for a spouse for his son or daughter. The incident is only to illustrate the limitations of a perfect ten on certainty. No amount of simulation can replicate how the parametric variables would unfold in reality. Maximization on all parameters is utopian and could be futile fastidiousness that is not commensurate with its benefits. Alternatively, optimization with known variables and constraints is pragmatic. All experiments have the caveat - ‘other things remaining the same’. The fact is there is no ‘ideal’ world and other things seldom remain the same! Therefore it is essential to develop superior skills in handling risks with acceptance of ambiguity, willingness for tradeoffs and adequacy to face uncertainty.

An obsession with certainty and hence de-risking every step removes the spirit of exploration and the joy of discovery and ingenuity. Two major dangers follow. The first is lack of spontaneity at any given moment; when we lead purely scripted lives, our naturalness loses its sheen. The second is the inability to face the unforeseen and bounce back from the unsavory phases of life. When faced with unscripted hard knocks, the response would be to cave in rather than recover with resilience.

In one of his lectures, a seer was mentioning that the only thing you are sure about your future when you are born is when your birthdays will come year after year! Everything else – education, health, wealth, character, marriage, social status, longevity, relationships and opportunities – has to unravel over time. He emphasized that uncertainty is the only certainty in life. Given this fact, the ability to deal with ambiguity and face reality as it unfurls becomes a great strength which shapes character.

On the other hand, leading an unplanned life throwing caution to the winds is foolhardy. Impulsive responses as a routine can be disastrous. It would be reckless to ignore known threats. While the bridge has to be crossed only when it comes, it is prudent to know where the bridge is and if it warrants any special care or preparation. Discretion is the better part of valor; it is wise to be watchful about the impact of our vulnerabilities.

Life is a journey which calls for decisions at every stage. Attention for each decision would depend on the magnitude of its impact. Attempt can be made to assess the uncertainty involved and categorize risks in a mind map. Many a times, this understanding by itself provides clarity and comfort; it arms us to face situations. Once events unfold, handling accomplishments is as risky as handling a letdown. Prudence is needed for both.

Paraphrasing William Ward, “To laugh is to risk appearing a fool; to weep is to risk appearing sentimental; to help is to risk involvement; to love is to risk rejection; to share a dream is to risk ridicule; to believe is to risk despair; to attempt is to risk failure. But risks must be taken as the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. To risk is to learn, feel, change, grow and love; to risk is to be free.” Such freedom comes with responsibility to differentiate an avoidable risk from an acceptable risk thus transforming a vulnerable smile to a vigilant smile.

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