But how far can you go?? Assessing and managing risk
Gaia and Andrew Grant, Directors of Tirian, provide a personal perspective on risk management whilst on holidays in the USA
Rocky Mountains, USA
With a 20+ hour plane trip from our home and office base in Bali through several transit points, we are now literally isolated from the rest of the world – we are snowed in. At an attitude of 3400 meters and a temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius, with two blizzards already having buried our surroundings in an unusually thick wad of white and another blizzard brewing on the horizon, we are loving having the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the year past and the new one ahead.
While traveling through the States with work commitments and meeting old and new friends, we have had time to reflect in particular on the outsider’s perspective of our life in Asia, and about the risks we take in life in general.
Many people here are interested to hear we are from Bali, but they have expressed concerns about our safety. In fact our first reminder that Bali is perceived as a very risky place to be came in the form of a prominent sign at Los Angeles airport warning passengers of the dangers of Bali’s airport. We were fascinated that Bali airport had been singled out as apparently the most dangerous airport in the world!
We have since had a number of opportunities to reflect on different perceptions of safety. Many people we have met in Colorado say they moved here as it is one of the safest states in the US: free from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and seemingly more protected from terrorist attacks and high crime rates etc.
Yet since we have been here in the mountains we have seen numerous deadly car accidents from the icy conditions, we have only just managed to sidestep a triple avalanche that buried 4 cars (and they’re still digging to check if there may be more), and we have also discovered that our family has been involved in statistically the most accident prone sport documented – snowboarding. When ordering lunch at the Subway sandwich outlets, we have been told we cannot order baby spinach at due to fears of E-coli attacks.
And at dinner party conversations, when our American friends have expressed that they are horrified at the fact that we are unperturbed about the threat of a shark attack while swimming or surfing in Bali or back in Australia (where we are originally from), we have needed to remind them that it is at least 1,000 times more dangerous to cross a road or climb into a car in this country.
And there are more dangerous threats lurking beneath the apparently serene surface of this beautiful area of the US. When we interviewed an English Professor from Colorado University at Denver (for one of our upcoming Snack PAK video series) he pointed out that Colorado holds the record for school shootings in the States (with the statistics showing annually 17,732 fatalities from homicides and 31,484 from suicides nationally).
Even on the way to the States we wondered about where the safest place in terms of terrorism and crime might be, with the information about numerous terrorist plots on flights headed to the US and UK and tight restrictions on hand luggage allowances – plus extra careful security screenings at all the airports around the country.
At another level, a visit to an Imax movie special on Black Holes with our children has reminded us that we could all be sucked into a cosmic vortex and obliterated at any time!
Just as we were considering the potential need to find another planet or universe to live in, Time magazine helped alleviate our fears with a cover article about safety titled “Why We Worry About The Things We Shouldn’t… And Ignore The Things We Should”. In this article JEFFREY KLUGER points out that, “We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn’t) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually. We pride ourselves on being the only species that understands the concept of risk, yet we have a confounding habit of worrying about mere possibilities while ignoring probabilities, building barricades against perceived dangers while leaving ourselves exposed to real ones.”
By taking a step-by-step walk through the daily risks we all face, the article reminds us again that statistically we are at most risk of a serious incident from slipping in the bath than anything more radical or dramatic. A welcome reminder that we shouldn’t be overly concerned about venturing back outside for another day of snowboarding…
We need to learn to continue to live life to the fullest and to contribute to others’ lives where we can; in the process being aware of real risks, remembering that even in safe places dangerous risks still abound, and to recognize that in apparently dangerous places it is possible to live an abundant life by exercising reasonable caution.
Remember; that people can do safe things dangerously and dangerous things safely.
So no matter where we are and what we are doing, we will continue to venture out and make the most of the opportunities that life presents with wise caution.
As Jeffrey Kluger summarizes, “Sensible calculation of real-world risks is a multidimensional math problem that sometimes seems entirely beyond us. And while it may be true that it’s something we’ll never do exceptionally well, it’s almost certainly something we can all learn to do better.”
Five characteristics a threat may have that appear to heighten fear in most of us, making the terrorist incident stay in both the forefront of our minds and the top of the news headlines are:
- Being beyond our personal control
- Potential for catastrophic events
- Unpredictability of risk
- Human as opposed to natural causes of danger. (Terrorism: Anxiety on a Global Scale DuPont)
Tirian’s Interactive Collective Knowledge: feedback from our readers
- "It’s a stranger world we live in but I enjoyed all the notes you sent…particularly when a mix of risk, controllability and moral outrage dictate our responses to tragedy; it makes simple common sense out of what appears to be complex reactions…"
Greg Redon Jakarta
- Yes, inspite of all the perceived terrors and dangers of this world, we can certainly live happy and fruitful lives if we have a passion for what we love to be involved in.
Brian Watson / Sydney
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