Dignity of Risk

Malcolm Wang

By Malcolm Wang

This last summer the Art of Autism posted on Facebook about wanting an artist with autism to write a blog about the “Dignity of Risk.” I did not know what that phrase means, so I had to google it. The Arc defines Dignity of Risk as the idea “that all people deserve the right of some level of self-determination.” This means that you make your own decisions even if they are wrong decisions. Some adults with disabilities have their parents or caregiver make all of their decisions for them. They don’t make adult decisions for themselves.

I read other blogs and articles about the Dignity of Risk. I felt surprised when I read the articles because everyone makes mistakes. Everyone should be allowed to make mistakes, because it’s a part of learning.

Then, I realized that all of my favorite songs are about Dignity of Risk. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield says, “We are conditioned to not make mistakes. But I can’t live that way.” She also says that life is a blank page and we get to choose our own story. She says the line, “Staring at the blank page before you” three times. I feel like this relates to my life because I’m still making plans for my life.

It’s also like making art because when I start a painting, the canvas is blank. When I start a short story, the page is blank. I don’t do everything perfectly every time. Recently, I was editing photos on Photoshop for my new portfolio, and many of my photos were blurry. I was trying to take pictures of birds and insects, but they kept moving when I tried to take a picture. Even though my artwork might not turn out great, I still love doing it.

Malcolm Wang "Blurry Bird"
Malcolm Wang “Blurry Bird”
Malcolm Wang
Photograph by Malcolm Wang

Another terrific song about the Dignity of Risk is Brave by Sara Bareilles. The song explains that life can be scary sometimes, but we have the ability to choose a better way. In this song, she sings, “Honestly, I want to see you be brave” ten times. When I hear her say those words over and over again, I think about how I feel brave when I go away to my vocational school. At school, I had to report a behavior problem with my roommate. I have to keep the details private. I was worried I would get into trouble, but I had to tell the truth to a school counselor. I was not popular with other students afterwards, however, I know I did the right thing.

One thing I am really good at is trying my best. The song, Try by Pink is special to me because she says, “You gotta get up and try, and try, and try” fifteen times. That is a good message because if you give up, then you will never learn. In eleventh grade English class, I was having difficulty with reading comprehension. The novel, Ender’s Game, was hard to understand. I got a zero on the first three reading comprehension quizzes, but then I studied the same material over and over again and asked a lot of questions so that I could show that I understood the material. Then, at the end of the unit, I got a one hundred percent on the final quiz of the book.

A really fun song about the Dignity of Risk is Up Up Up by Rose Falcon. First, she says, “Try to fly and if I drop, Not gonna quit, Get up, get up, get up.” By the end of the song, she repeats, “up up up” fifteen times. This is special to me because I have daily headaches, but I can still do things that make me feel good. I need to take breaks to take care of myself, but then I always get up to do fun activities like creating art and hanging out with friends.

I enjoy listening to Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts because making decisions is similar to driving. Rascal Flatts says that the roads are rough sometimes. Sometimes when we drive, we get lost. Sometimes, we are not sure where we are going. It is okay to be unsure sometimes. My favorite line of the song is, “Life is a highway. I want to ride it all night long.” He says that line six times.

Malcolm Wang

I am still trying to learn life skills, job skills, and social skills. I practice life skills when I bought my own groceries at the store and when I cooked my own lunch. Every time I work a shift at Mission BBQ, I am learning job skills. To practice social skills, I make my own plans with my good friends. Sometimes, people think that I do not understand. But, I do understand.

No one made those decisions for me. I made those decisions for myself. That is what the Dignity of Risk means.

If you can think of any more songs about Dignity of Risk, then please post in the comments below, because I love to listen to new songs.


Malcolm Wang is an artist and a student in retail marketing at MCTI (Michigan Career and Technical Institute). He specializes in nature photography. Malcolm was diagnosed with autism at age three.

5 replies on “Dignity of Risk”
  1. says: Dianna Shamus

    Malcolm, thank you for sharing your perspective on the Dignity of Risk. I really enjoyed reading your essay! At the end, you asked people to share their favorite songs about the Dignity of Risk. Mine is “Try Everything” by Shakira (from the movie Zootopia). In this song, Shakira sings that “birds don’t just fly — they fall down and get up. Nobody learns without getting it wrong.” She also sings about wanting to try everything despite knowing that she might fail at them. I think you might really enjoy this song.
    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful essay. Good luck at school!

  2. says: Valerie

    Beautiful and inspiring!!!
    I have personally seen you taking risks with great dignity!
    Continue to grow and continue to take risk!!!

  3. says: Betsy

    I enjoyed this article very much. I would like to recommend the song “Over and Over” by Madonna. It is about perseverance and keeping going even after making a mistake. It is also has some parts about ambition— being eager to do something. And it has a very fun, fast beat!

  4. says: Susan Byrne

    A famous American Songbook song about the Dignity of Risk is “My Way”, which most people have heard sung by Frank Sinatra. It was my mother’s favorite song. My mother’s life philosophy is pretty well summed up by the Dignity of Risk. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad I leaned that phrase!

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