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Taking Risks: Critical Essay

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The great existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “To know what life is worth, you have to take risks once in a while.” When people take risks, it could expand their knowledge and understanding, and risks could give opportunities to those who would otherwise not be entitled, while it can also lead to completing tasks with success.

The author of Ten Days in a Mad House, Nellie Bly, is the perfect example of taking risks to expand their knowledge. Bly’s novel is a patchwork of articles that featured the true story of her on an undercover assignment for the New York World, feigning insanity at a women's boarding house, to be involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. She then investigated the reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. Because Bly had chosen to take the risk of being admitted to the WLA, she learned how the workers were mistreating their patients and had her suspicions confirmed. Without Bly’s risk, society might have never learned about the lives that were harmed on Blackwell’s Island, and the women there may have suffered more if not for Bly’s gamble. Nellie Bly proves that when people take risks, they can expand their knowledge and understanding.

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Another example of how risks could lead to opportunities is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery sometime in 1817 or 1818 and as a slave, was not permitted to learn to read or write. His master’s mistress had taught him the alphabet and by doing so had sparked an interest in Douglass that burned with a curious thirst for more. As he grew, Douglass learned to write by copying the letters on the crates in the Shipyard where he worked, then other educated children taught him as well in exchange for bread, of which he had plenty from his master's home. When he finally had mastered writing, Douglass began to understand what the men around him were saying when they spoke of abolition, and with this knowledge finally fled from his master, becoming a free man. Without Douglass having taken the risk of becoming literate, he might never have learned of abolition and remained a slave for the rest of his life. Frederick Douglas offers evidence that when people take risks, it can lead them to opportunity.

Lastly, the tale of Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science paints taking risks as a means to successfully complete tasks. Gage was an American railroad construction worker remembered for his fortunate survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe. Gage’s job was to blast boulders with explosives to make them small enough for his men to clear, but one day an explosive was not set right, and in an accident, a large tamping rod pierced his skull from his left cheekbone through his hairline. Miraculously, Gage survived for 12 years longer after the accident, and completed the railroad that he was building. Although sometimes risks can involve some unfortunate results, in the case of Phineas Gage, he was able to complete the railroad as well as survive a freak accident, all because he took the risk for his safety. Without Gage’s risk, the railroad probably would not have been finished, but because he risked himself, Phineas Gage is famous throughout history as the man who did not give up and finished his job no matter what.

Nellie Bly. Frederick Douglass. Phineas Gage. All these people’s lives are well remembered in history because of the risks they took, to gain knowledge, take opportunities, and finish tasks with success. Jean-Paul Sartre’s words seem all the more true in the light of these notable individuals’ stories of how they took risks and experienced what life was worth.

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Taking Risks: Critical Essay. (2023, August 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Taking Risks: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 17 Aug. 2023,
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Taking Risks: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Aug 17 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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