Isn't risk taking what makes us human?

A Personal Reflection on Unwise Decisions

Isn't risk taking what makes us human? After all, ‘trial and error’ is at the heart of human evolution. We often hear 'you don't know unless you try' and this is very true.

Admittedly I have made various mistakes in my own personal life - some trivial, others more significant. But then there are those sweet moments when I have attempted something which scared me, and I struck gold.

I believe in stepping out of my comfort zone to take 'positive risks'. On the upside, this can build confidence and resilience. Though alternatively, it can lead to a more negative perception where I might ruminate over my actions.

Did I step too boldly forward? Was the outcome worth the risk?

I analyse how I have conducted myself and strive to learn, hoping to only repeat the successes. But then sometimes I repeat the mistakes. This could be due to not always being able to neatly control my emotional impulses (yes, I'm human, and I'm still a work-in-progress!)

But let's assume I had a mental impairment. Where would I sit in that liminal space between unwise decision making and lacking capacity to make a specific decision?

This of course, would always be fluid in the context of the actual decision and the gradient of risk. However, if I was affected by a mental impairment, my decisions might well be scrutinised by carers/ professionals and their judgments would directly impact on the way I lived my life.

I wonder how my actions would be judged if I were swimming in the stigma within that fishbowl? What if I were assessed to lack capacity on a decision? I can only imagine how oppressive that would feel, especially if steps were taken to restrict me from what I wanted to do.

Thankfully there is no ongoing observation of my decisions (and no external paternalistic forces imposed on me). I am very lucky in that I am an adult with no cognitive deficits, so I am at liberty to make a mistake within my own private domain, I can then own it, reflect, and move on.

Looking back, I hold my hands up to not always having fully considered the risks when I've taken actions in my personal life. In the past I have minimised risks because of my faith and beliefs, or maybe because I wanted something so badly, I ignored sound advice and I proceeded to attain my goal amidst concerns from others (and I achieved it).

We certainly must keep this 'humanness' in mind when we observe a person who may be affected by a mental impairment, because we all make mistakes along the way, but we need to do this for our personal development and our rite of passage through life.

Yet on the other hand, if the evidenced risks are so great that it means serious harm could occur (which the person could not perceive, even with maximum support to do so), then the balance of promoting autonomy and the need to be protected, may well be tipped.

Working with people who may be more vulnerable to risk due to their mental functioning is a very complex task. Knowing where to draw the line at that precipice between unwise decision making and incapacity, requires an honest introspection into your own professional bias, as well as a dynamic and collaborative assessment approach.

But sometimes we do need to celebrate the unwise decisions, because in making them, maybe we have become that bit less unwise.

Eleanor Tallon, 16-12-22

ELEANOR TALLON qualified as a Social Worker in 2008 with a first-class BSc (Hons) in Social Work from the University of Huddersfield. She also holds post graduate certificates at Masters level, in Mental Capacity and Disorder, and Best Interest Assessor (2015). Eleanor is a Registered Social Worker (RSW) with over 14 years of statutory experience in a variety of settings, and has worked as a private Case Manager supporting clients affected by acquired brain injury.


Eleanor tweets at and you can connect with her via Linked in

To discuss your Mental Capacity Assessment requirements please email or call 0129724145.

Posted on December 20th 2022

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