The recent hullabaloo over has gotten me thinking about the issue of risk – the risks we embrace, the ones we avoid, and why it is that we seek or repel risk in the first place.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve tended toward cautious. Not risk-averse per se, but careful in a helmet-wearing personal-flotation-device-donning sort of way. As a kid, I kept alert on rough days at the beach, never venturing out into deep water, I paid attention around fire, and wore a seat belt long before it was popular to do so. Was this, I wonder, an expression of the personality I was born with, or the direct result of having been reared by cautious parents? It sort of begs the old nature/nurture question: did I inherit cautious genes or learn to be cautious by example? Probably a little bit of both.
That everything we do has some element of risk was a point raised many times (including by me, in this space, last week) in the recent conversations across town about diving/jumping at the pool. Risk, most agree, is ubiquitous. From a statistical point of view, driving across town is probably one of the most risky things we do and we do it every day without much consideration of that risk.
Many of us claim to be “fearful flyers.” We pause before boarding a plane and grit our teeth as the flight begins its ascent. I have a friend whose mother, before taking a plane trip, locates and lays out her last will and testament and other important documents. She engages in this ritual, of course, just in case the plane goes down, her grown children will have no problem accessing the vital documents, instructions, and computer passwords. But this helpful, thoughtful woman does not lay the all-important documents out when she drives to the grocery store – which is a far more risky and dangerous undertaking than plane travel, from a statistical viewpoint, that is.
Obviously then, statistical data reflecting what is risky does not necessarily dictate that which feeds our fears. There are irrational forces at work. Allow me to illustrate an example.
Every summer I take my kids to Canobie Lake Park and every summer I try to talk them out of going on certain rides, namely most roller coasters and the Ferris wheel. Last summer I persuaded (strong-armed, more like) my littlest child (the only one I can still manipulate) into skipping the UNTAMED roller coaster. She looked at me and calmly asked: “Is there really a risk I’ll get hurt or die?” Ah, that word again!
“Every year” I replied, “a person will die on an amusement park ride.” Turns out I was making this up.
“Well” she snapped, storming out of the line. “Then why are we here?!”
Why indeed? The thought that she had been more “at risk” driving here was not lost on me. Once home I checked the data. Not surprising, the odds point overwhelmingly in Chrissy’s favor: she would have been fine on UNTAMED.
In 2010, According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, “approximately 290 million guests visited U.S. amusement facilities and safely enjoyed 1.7 billion rides. The most recent Fixed-site Amusement Ride Injury Survey highlights that an estimated 1,207 ride related injuries occurred in 2010. Only 59 of the injuries in 2010 were reported as “serious,” meaning they required some form of overnight treatment at a hospital; this comprised roughly 5 percent of all ride injuries.”
The truth is, I possess an irrational distrust of amusement park rides, I don’t think they are worth any risk, and I totally projected that onto my kid. My bad.
Risk is everywhere. We continue to drive our cars, regardless of the data, but most of us wear seatbelts, exercise the best judgment we can, and hope for a little bit of luck. Same with bikes. We don’t eschew an afternoon family bike ride, but we insist helmets are worn.
There’s a little bit of “There but for the grace of God go I” in just being alive. Mostly I’m okay with this. I’ll mitigate risk where I can (helmets, life preservers, and the like) and I’ll keep taking some risks, including jumping at the Underwood Pool, if allowed to do so.
Except, I personally won’t be partaking in UNTAMED again this summer, despite the 1 in 100 million injury odds. But I promise to grit my teeth, and get out of the way, as the kids jump in line.