On Thanksgiving last year, I took a calculated risk and drove the ol’ Camry through a moderate snow storm in order to celebrate the holiday with my sister. The further I drove, the weather conditions became more severe. Before long, I had to drive an average speed of 15 miles-an-hour in order to safely remain on the highway. Eventually, I did reach my destination.
By late afternoon, the storm had ended. The state highway department’s road condition Website showed that the road had been plowed open, so the decision to return home was easier. Along the route, I made a mental note of all the pickups, SUVs, and a few cars that were in ditches and cornfields. The drivers of these vehicles had taken their own chances but their end results were unfortunate.
When we stop to ponder the word chance, we realize that the term can mean a great many things. A baseball player knows that he can make a snap decision to assist a play that could decide the outcome of an inning or, if unsuccessful count as an error. Someone patronizing a casino is there to take chances with their money. What are the chances of winning and losing?
When planning for an event, like my Thanksgiving Day journey, we consult the weather forecast to find out the chances of precipitation. Chance is also that mysterious, unknown part of what happens in life that appears to have no categorical cause. This “force” seems impossible to predict or control.
We might say that good or bad luck are the product of chance. What are we supposed to do about chance? Friedrich Nietzche once said, “No victor believes in chance.” Meantime Thomas Fuller said, “A wise man turns chance into good fortune.”
What we do about chance depends upon circumstances. If one finds herself in a burning building the chance of jumping into a firemen’s net must be taken. If another person is given the opportunity to take free skydiving lessons, there is more of a choice–jump or don’t jump.
Regardless of who we are, we are presented with chances of all sorts. What we do with these chances is often a choice. In the case of the Thanksgiving snowstorm, I chose to take a chance on the highway. Because I took that chance, I eventually enjoyed a pleasant holiday celebration. If I would not have taken that chance, I would have sat at home alone, eating a pre-fab frozen dinner watching the snow fall.
In the American automobile industry, Henry Ford took a chance by designing and marketing the Model T. That chance turned out very well. Decades later, Ford Motor Company took chances with the Pinto. Eventually, that turned out unfortunate for the company and some of the people who took chances and bought the cars.
You can probably think of situations when you took chances, and the results were failure or embarrassment. You might also remember not taking a chance on some venture, then later, wanting to kick yourself for that decision, because someone else took advantage of the situation and succeeded. More rarely, perhaps you decided to take a chance, and you were rewarded with a happy result.
When faced with a decision, we can rely on the science of probability which may discourage or encourage us. In the end, we have to take a chance with one of the options. After all, what we do with chance, has everything to do with our lives.