personal responsibility and risks

Pozdrav iz Podgorice!

Has the era of risk minimisation ruined our capacity to take responsibility for our own actions? Have we devalued surprise in the quest to make our lives safer? Has fun been taken out of the adventure?

Tara River

Yesterday we ventured into the northernmost corner of Montenegro for a rafting trip down the Tara River. The adventure has crystallised some of those questions of risk and responsibility.

After a rickety bus ride up the mountain pass, we stayed in a beautiful valley on the Bosnian border overnight. Joining the bigger group for the day’s adventure, we were taken to the start of the raft ride at mid-morning.

Our raft was skippered by quiet, calm, reassuring Vlado. Also in the boat were two Russians (Ivan from Siberia and Giulia from Moscow) and a party of five boisterous Serbs who were intent of having a good time from the outset.

visibly and audibly

After each set of rapids a cuturica (a World War 2 military hip flask) full of vodka was passed around – to all of us. When I posited the likelihood of the flask emptying before the trip was half over, the Serbs quickly pointed out the stash of beer they had also brought, and with which they were also very generous. The Serbs were enjoying themselves visibly and audibly before, during and after the alcohol, bursting spontaneously into loud renditions of Serbian drinking songs, or folk songs, or anthems. (It was hard to tell the difference – perhaps they are one and the same.) All the way downstream, we had Bosnia on our right and Montenegro on our left.

bears in the forest

Someone asked if there were bears in the forest and Dragan’s answer was a thoughtful, “Apart from us, I don’t think so!” At the half-way point, we stopped at a narrow beach for a swim. A few were reluctant but: “It is the custom,” said Mico. The water was penetratingly cold but the wetsuits were up to the task. Overall, we had a great day on the river.


At no stage was there a suggestion that we would be required to complete any paperwork such as an indemnity form. The only instruction was “Go!” and alcohol was consumed freely on board. Contrast this to the fearful approach of such operators in Australia and New Zealand.

the doctrine of personal responsibility

The doctrine of personal responsibility applies to all private and social interactions in all parts of Europe. If you trip on the pavement, you should have been more careful. If you have an accident, that was the risk you took. Contrast this with the cruise ship, which is owned by an American company, where there are warning signs in abundance in all kinds of places. These included:

Use of soap and water will help ensure a safe and healthy vacation. (This was accompanied by a handy video demonstration, can you believe it?)

Watch your step.

Caution while opening. (on a bin lid!!)

For your own safety please use the handrail.

This contrast raises an interesting comparison in the recent evolution of personal responsibility. Here, it is standard expectation that people take care about their own daily activity. Perhaps we are becoming too reliant on some authority looking after us, and we lose our sense of responsibility for our own actions. (An interesting sidelight to this: a comedian on board the cruise ship had a few blokes volunteer from the audience to participate in a trick. Upon discovering that the bloke in the black shirt was from Arizona, the comedian said, “No, not you, you’ll sue!”)
    Perhaps it’s easy for survivors to pontificate on how far the pendulum has swung. Perhaps that doesn’t account for anyone who is maimed or killed by a lack of preparation. But, perhaps we have lost something in adopting the new regime of risk minimisation. The rafting trip proves that it can be done.

  Anyway, zdravo za sad

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