These days, a lot of my conversations with clients and friends include talking about acceptable levels of risk (aka, “ALOR”). As things open back up, what kinds of risk are you comfortable with? Are you comfortable going to a restaurant? A bar? A barber shop? How about a gym or nail salon? A private party at someone’s house? When you’re out and about, how much distance do you need between yourself and other people to be comfortable?

We want local businesses to thrive and prosper: how do we balance our ALOR with patronizing them? Many of us are lonely and bored from weeks of isolation: how can we assuage our loneliness while still being concerned about – unknowingly – spreading COVID-19?

Deciding your acceptable levels of risk is not just about COVID-19. For example, how do you determine your ALOR in your sex life? Do you consider using PrEP – without condoms – to be an acceptable level of risk? A client recently told me that someone questioned how wise it was for him to be on PrEP, given that there are no long-term studies on how it affects the body. He asked me, “Do you think that’s a reasonable thing to worry about?” I told him, “No one else can determine what you consider an acceptable level of risk.” He went on, “How do you respond to someone whose comfort with risk is different from yours?”

Good question. This week, clients have told me, “It’s hard for me to tell my friends that I’m not comfortable going to a bar yet. They’d call me a wimp if I told them that.” As a result, this guy went to the bar with his friends and felt uneasy the whole time, wishing he had spoken his truth, but afraid of being made fun of if he did.

How do you balance your individual acceptable level of risk with someone else’s? Many marriages and relationships are struggling with this dilemma right now.

As a community, we want to balance the desire to open up beloved local businesses with the desire to stay healthy. This raises questions: do we wear masks all the time, or just when we’re in stores/bars/restaurants? Are we willing to take the risk of someone accidentally sneezing or coughing on us? If we’re healthy, are we willing to risk being asymptomatic and unknowingly infecting other people?

These are not easy questions to answer: the ethical dilemmas of acceptable risk are challenging. There is no “right” answer for everyone. What you think is right is fine for you, but how does that work when your friends/partner/family/coworkers disagree?

And how do you determine your ALOR? Is based on science? Intuition? What you read or hear on the news or social media? Your best friend who’s a nurse? Is it part of your basic nature: are you naturally someone who takes more risks than most people? Are you an early adapter? Do you like to be the first at something new? Maybe this is how you were raised or maybe it’s the essence of your personality. Does this make you “better” or “braver” than someone who is more reluctant to take a chance and is more worried about their health? Is that person less of a “man” or “woman” than their allegedly-braver counterpart?

And what about social pressure? When people tease or mock us because we are more cautious than they are, how do we handle that? If you’re wearing a mask outside and no one else is, do you feel wise or foolish?

There is no ultimate right or wrong when it comes to what each of us is comfortable with. Just because things are opening up doesn’t mean that you have to jump back in. Determine what YOU are comfortable with today and act accordingly; you may feel differently tomorrow, as you get new information and situations change.

It’s okay if you’re ready to jump back into the social/entertainment/retail worlds; it’s also okay if you’re not. In determining your own acceptable levels of risk, I recommend the advice of scientists – not politicians – and listening to your “gut” sense of what is right for you.