Fear Not: Putting Risk in Perspective

Fear Not: Putting Risk in Perspective

Those of us who live in Florida know the phenomenon well.

Search for “shark attack in florida” and you’ll see plenty of stories this year, including one as recent as last month in the New York Daily News implying that beaches were closed in Florida due to sharks (the photo actually is from Hawaii).

There also was this story early this past July alerting readers of USA Today to the fact that the number of shark attacks was above average.

We hate this stuff, because we know that a headline about a shark attack can deter some beach-bound vacationers from Florida’s beautiful beaches or prompt them to cut their vacation time short.

But the simple truth is that those vacationers (and Floridians themselves) are much, much, much more likely to be injured or killed driving to a restaurant or crossing the street to get to that kitschy store than to be hurt, let alone killed, by a shark.

As the USA Today story explains (after the attention grabbing headline, Yes, the number of shark attacks is above average), “Typically, the U.S. sees about 30 to 40 attacks, of which either zero or one is deadly.” The uptick to which the story referred, if it proved a trend this year, might have pushed the number of attacks up a dozen or so. As for deaths . . . maybe it will be two or three this year, instead of one.

Compare that to the uptick in traffic deaths . . . almost 19,000 killed in the first six months of this year.  At that pace, this year probably will close out as among the very worst in a decade.

So go ahead, get in the water. Enjoy a little beach time R&R.

A similar bit of perspective might help us in dealing with the drumbeat of news about terrorism.

By its very nature and design, terrorism insights unreasoned fear. Its goal is to provoke reactions in a populace and/or a government that are excessive in their virulence and violence. Such reactions, in turn, help drive new members into the terrorist movements (one key goal of these organizations).

So . . . how many people in the U.S. have been killed by “jihadists” in the U.S. so far this year?

19.

How many last year?

5

2013?

4

2012?

0

In fact, if we start our count with 2002 (the year after the 9/11 attacks), the total number of people in the U.S. killed by “jihadists” is 45.

Go ahead, add the horrific September 11 attack to the number. In decade and a half, we’re still looking at about one-tenth of the number of people killed each year in accidents involving automobiles.

Or consider the number of people who die each year from overdoses of prescription opioids (those powerful pain killers we hear so much about): roughly 16,000.

Or consider that the death rate due to unintentional falls among adults 65 and over is approaching 58/100,000 persons in that age bracket . . . a vastly larger number than the number killed by terrorists in this country any year except 2001. Might want to put some effort into ensuring both prevention and rapid respond for yourself if you are in that bracket, or for your parents.

Should we be concerned about terrorists? Of course. But if you are thinking of avoiding the movie theaters this holiday season, or skipping that extra visit to the mall, because you fear being attacked by a terrorist, think again.

Perhaps you shouldn’t go out. The world is a dangerous place, after all. But you are more likely to be killed in an auto accident on the way to or from the mall or theater than you are to be killed by a terrorist.

In fact, you are more likely to be killed by something falling on you in the store, or in your yard as you decorate, or falling off the ladder while putting up the lights, than you are by a terrorist.

So . . . can we embrace a season of good cheer and wishes of peace with just a little more tranquility?

“Fear not,” is a line from a story we hear each year at this time. Perhaps we should take it to heart.