Uncertainty and risk

How can we get through these unsure times?

April 26, 2020 11:51 pm | Updated 11:51 pm IST

It is a difficult time to be a graduating student. While all of us are experiencing uncertainty to different degrees as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, some are feeling it much more keenly and possibly in life-altering ways. We cannot ignore the dabbawaala who has no more lunches to deliver, or the dhobi whose iron stays cold, or the migrant construction worker whose site of work has suddenly fallen silent. That is a level of precariousness that is difficult to imagine. But each of us is dealing with a sense of not knowing what will happen in the short term, and how that will affect the long term. It is particularly unsettling for students who are set to complete their programmes of study and move to the next phase — either look for a job or apply for further studies.

The job market is shaky right now, particularly in some sectors that depend on an uptick in consumption to regain some balance. Companies are (mostly) scaling back on hiring and the few who have already recruited are holding off on issuing formal appointment letters. Everyone seems to be waiting to see how things unfold after the lockdown and how long the economy will take to recover. It is hard to make predictions; it is even harder to give advice.


While this particular moment may be unprecedented, it does underscore something that we have all heard before: the need for us to get comfortable with uncertainty, and to learn how to manage it.

The first response to uncertainty tends to be anxiety, sometimes fear. It is quite normal for us to be afraid of something we don’t know, or understand. We can take small doses of unpredictability — such as not knowing about the quality of a restaurant, or not being able to estimate how much time we need to reach somewhere. These days, we have online reviews and Google maps to help us deal with such situations.

So, information helps dispel the uncertainty. Rather than worry endlessly about how things are going to turn out, it can help to focus on getting the relevant information that can give a sense of how to think about the situation. Much like scientists or economists use data to make predictions about various phenomena, we can search out information related to the problem at hand, and try to reduce the uncertainty, rather than just becoming consumed by worry. This means one should be able to look for the right kind of information, sift through it to determine what is relevant, and weigh its applicability to our situation.

But getting information is not enough. One should also be able to use it to play out “if—then” scenarios. That is what experts do — determine risk based on different possibilities and thus estimate the probability of various outcomes. Thinking in this way can also point you to what you can do to prepare for those eventualities. If your research shows that certain kinds of jobs are going to be more in demand, for instance, can you acquire the necessary skills? If the reports suggest that the lockdown will not be lifted completely for another month, can you plan to occupy yourself productively for that one month?

We can never be completely sure of what will happen in life. But we can arm ourselves with information, and turn that worry into preparedness.

The writer teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. usha.bpgll@gmail.com

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.