The Truth About Risk
On June 19, 2008, Dr. Ben Carson received the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in a White House ceremony. He says that he’d never have achieved so much if he hadn’t known the what he calls “the truth about risk.”
He offers an example in chapter 5 of his book, “Take the Risk,” when he shares the poignant story of Bo-Bo Valentine, a 4-year-old girl who got hit by an ice cream truck and was near death when he met her.
What Dr. Carson Learned from Bo-Bo Valentine
“I first met Bo-Bo on a Monday morning, after she had been in laying comatose all weekend in the intensive care unit,” he writes, noting that he was told her pupils were responding to light, which was positive. Still, the resident in charge believed it was time to give up on her.
Dr. Carson explains that he gently lifted her eyelids, and found her eyes fixed and dilated. He knew he had to act fast if he was going to save her. En route to the operating room, they bumped into another surgeon who advised, “Don’t do it. You are wasting your time.”
“His response startled me, but I didn’t let it deter me,” Dr. Carson writes. ““There wasn’t time. Bo-Bo was still alive, and we had a chance, slight as it may be, to save her life. I didn’t rethink my decision. I was going to do the surgery.”
After two hours in the OR and more than a week spent comatose, Bo-Bo was alert and responsive.
“Within six weeks,” he shares, “she was a happy, normal, charming four-year-old girl again. I saw Bo-Bo recently, and she introduced me to her own little girl. That brief encounter was a wonderful reminder to me that experts don’t always have the last word on risk. Sometimes they only add to our doubt and confusion about the uncertainties and risks we face in life.”
Best Case / Worst Case Analysis: A Primer for Deciding When to Take a Risk
When wrestling with an important decision, Dr. Ben Carson suggests asking yourself these four questions:
1. What is the best thing that can happen if I do this?
2. What is the worst thing that can happen if I do this?
3. What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
4. What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
“I think through these questions from my point of view, that of the patient, the parents and any other party involved, and by the time I’m done I know that I have considered just about every possible scenario and outcome,” Dr. Carson insists.
The More We Know, the More We Worry
Honored in 2009 by the Jackie Robinson Foundation for his contribution to mentoring African American youth, Dr. Carson (pictured here with fellow recipients Robin Roberts and Robert Redford) says he never ceases encouraging others to go for their dreams.
By outlining seven common sense “truths,” he helps us understand why it’s important not to let fear get in our way — including “Truth 2: The more we know the more we worry.”
“A couple of centuries ago,” he writes, “doctors didn’t understand the relationship between germs and disease; most of the populace throughout Western civilization believed more than one or two baths a year was excessive and might actually contribute to several dreaded illnesses.”
“Those who are quick to declare that we’re living today at a time of unique and unprecedented risk may need a little jogging of their memories, because our perspective has been and is greatly distorted by what I would diagnose as a serious case of societal amnesia,” he adds. “It’s no wonder that 90% of Americans say they feel less safe today than they did growing up. Yet the facts belie this sense of insecurity.”
He also believes that “Truth 3: A lot of risks aren’t worth the worry;” “Truth 5: Minimizing risk is often the best we can do,” and “Truth 7: Not all risks are bad.”
As a result, Dr. Carson feels strongly that each of us has to decide what the acceptable risks are.
A Prescription for Taking Good Risks
“When it comes to determining how you will react to any particular risk, you ought to think for yourself,” he concludes. “Wisdom is different from knowledge. Instead of losing ourselves in all the information before us, let’s exercise a little wisdom to us realize that life without risk would be dull.”
In closing, he offers five tips to help us make wise decisions.
1. Know yourself. Know your values, and what matters to you. It is the only way that you will know what risks are worth taking.
2. Whatever risk you take, be honest with yourself about your motives. And be honest with everyone who is going to be effected by your risk so they also know the pros and cons of the situation.
3. Do due diligence. Never jump into the pool unless you know how deep it is.
4. Be compulsive about analyzing the situation. Don’t take somebody else’s word for it. It’s your risk. Take responsibility for analyzing every angle.
5. Be brave. No one ever discovered anything great sitting under the olive tree waiting for it to happen, Carson concludes. “You have to go out there, be active, and shake the bushes if you want the birds to fly out.”
About Dr. Ben Carson
Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D., had a childhood dream of becoming a physician.
Growing up in a single parent home and being challenged by dire poverty, poor grades, a horrible temper, and low self‐esteem appeared to preclude the realization of that dream, until his mother, with only a third‐grade education, challenged her sons to strive for excellence.
Young Ben persevered, and today is a full professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for over a quarter of a century.
He became the inaugural recipient of a professorship dedicated in his name in May, 2008. He is now the Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D. and Dr. Evelyn Spiro, R.N. Professor of Pediatric Neurosurgery.
Some career highlights include the first and only successful separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins joined at the back of the head in 1987, the first completely successful separation of type‐2 vertical craniopagus twins in 1997 in South Africa, and the first successful placement of an intrauterine shunt for a hydrocephalic twin.
Although he has been involved in many newsworthy operations, he feels that every case is noteworthy — deserving of maximum attention. He is interested in all aspects of pediatric neurosurgery, and has a special interest in trigeminal neuralgia (a severe facial pain condition) in adults.
Dr. Carson holds more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans, and many other prestigious organizations.
He sits on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corporation, the Academy of Achievement, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of Yale University. He was appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Council on Bioethics.
He is a highly regarded motivational speaker who has addressed various audiences from school systems and civic groups to corporations and the President’s National Prayer Breakfast.
In 2001, Dr. Carson was named by CNN and TIME Magazine as one of the nation’s 20 foremost physicians and scientists. That same year, he was selected by the Library of Congress as one of 89 “Living Legends” on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. He is also the recipient of the 2006 Spingarn Medal which is
the highest honor bestowed by the NAACP.
In February, 2008, Dr. Carson was presented with the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal by President Bush at the White House. In June 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President, which is the highest civilian honor in the land.
Dr. Carson was recognized in November, 2008 by U.S. News & World Report and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, as one of “America’s Best Leaders.”
On February 7, 2009, the movie entitled “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” premiered on TNT and is based on his memoir. The movie was nominated in January 2010 for “Best Picture Made for Television” during the Critics Choice Awards.
“Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” was the winner of the Epiphany Prize for “Best Television Movie” during the 2010 Movieguide Faith & Values Awards in February. The movie also won the 2010 NAACP Image Awards for “Outstanding
Television Movie, Mini‐Series, or Dramatic Special.”
Dr. Carson is also the president and co‐founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. The Fund is currently operating in 34 states and the District of Columbia, and has awarded more than $3.9 million to nearly 4,000 scholars.