08/21/2012 04:08 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2012

Calculated Risk: Wild Dogs, Caged Monkeys and... Texting?

Rebecca Carey was a risk-taker. She didn't drive race cars or bungee jump off cliffs or eat pufferfish. Rebecca Carey rescued abandoned animals. Last week, she was attacked and killed by one or more of the six dogs she was caring for. When she failed to show up for work at the Alpharetta's Loving Hands Animal Clinic, coworkers became concerned. A friend went to check on Rebecca and found her dead. She was 23 years old.

Andrew Oberle, a 26-year-old graduate student in anthropology, was volunteering at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden. Earlier this summer, while lecturing to tourists, he was attacked by two chimps. Apparently, Oberle went inside the first security fence to speak to the crowd when the chimps pulled him underneath the second fence and into their enclosure where he was mauled. Andrew survived the attack, but not without significant injuries.

Both of these were passionate, committed young adults who knew the risks. Rebecca had been working with dogs for almost a decade. Andrew had been working with captive animals for years and, according to Lisa Corewyn, a fellow doctoral student, was aware of the risks. She said, "We all know that there's risk in what we do ... but it's still shocking because normally, for the most part, these things just don't happen."

I have to wonder, would Rebecca and Andrew have done something different? Would they have reassessed their risk? To the first question, I speculate the answer would be no, they both would have continued to pursue their passions. However, I think the answer to the second question would be yes, they would reassess their risk. Perhaps Rebecca would have taken in fewer dogs at a time, or a different mix of breeds. Perhaps Andrew would have stayed outside the security fence. Why didn't they take those precautions the first time? I think the answer to that question is the more times things go normally, the more shocking it is when things don't. Growing up, this was called "being lulled into a sense of false security." Or you could call it choosing to live in a "normally" and "for-the-most-part" world.

I think Andrew and Rebecca were operating within that normally and for-the-most-part world when tragedy stuck. It's not my place to pass judgment because I do the same thing. Normally and for the most part, nothing bad happens. But, the bigger the stakes, the smaller the margin for error. Rebecca and Andrew were involved in high-risk activities. When that margin of error slides off of the normal and for-the-most-part setting, tragic consequences can happen.

I don't take in abandoned dogs or work with chimpanzees. However, I do engage in risky behaviors. For example, even though I know I shouldn't and have started to see the public service announcements on television about what happens when you text and drive, I still do. Normally, for the most part I don't, but sometimes I do. I have to ask myself, why? Why take the risk? The honest answer is because I've done it before and nothing bad happened.

But bad things do happen. They happened to Rebecca and Andrew. Are there high-stakes areas in my life where I should start looking at risks from a different direction?

Tim Medlin, who is the DeKalb County interim animal control director, explained why all six dogs at Rebecca Carey's house were killed when they really didn't know which dog or dogs were involved in the attack. He said, "We didn't know which dog did which. I can't be wrong ... I will not put another person at that kind of risk."

Sometimes it works to take a calculated risk. Sometimes it doesn't. The challenge is to decide when you can't be wrong. The challenge is to accept that sometimes what you want to have happen, won't, and what you never want to have happen, can. And then, act accordingly.

For more by Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.