Monthly Archives: July 2014

Risk Obtuse and Danger Perception

If you’re reading this, you’re in danger.

Look out!  Caution!  Beware!  DANGER! OMG YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!

Overwhelming, isn’t it.   Our minds and our bodies are great at filtering risk and processing danger — if we let it.  Most people raised in a modern urban environment have very little experience  with actual, immediate, personal danger.  They just don’t grok it.

David Ropeik in his HOW RISKY IS IT REALLY? book talks about a ‘Perception Gap’ to try to balance actual risk with what people are afraid of and tries to get to the underlying causes of those fears.  Maybe what is dangerous for you, isn’t dangerous for me and vice versa?

Jeffrey Rosenthal in STRUCK BY LIGHTENING: The Curious World of Probabilities tries to help people get a better grasp on statistics and appeals to the math behind actual risk to see if that will make sense to people.  If you run the numbers, how bad is it really?  Do you know you’re most likely putting yourself in danger daily which far far exceeds any perceived threat you’re worried about?

Richard Louv in LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder devotes Part III of the book to “The Best of Intentions: Why Kids don’t play outside anymore” and gives many examples and descriptions of how parents have meant well, and inadvertently have done much more harm to their children.

Don’t be risk obtuse.  My advice?   Do something you feel is dangerous.  I didn’t say life-threatening, I don’t mean be careless, I want you to think about something you feel is dangerous, think about how you can mitigate the risk, and try it.  ‘Baby steps’ at first, but do some research and try to wrap re-define your baseline for danger.

There is a scene in the 2009 Australian film The Boys are Back that I often use as an example for people.  The movie stars Clive Owen as a widowed father trying to find his way raising his kids.  The scene in particular is when he hosts a kid’s birthday party and installs a high zipline for the kids to swing on and the mothers attending the party are agog.  “But what if he let go?!” one mum exclaims.  “That is why he is holding on so tight” replies Owen’s character.

“Better a broken bone, than a broken spirit” I’ve been fond of saying of late.

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