Friedrich Nietzsche said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m convinced what doesn’t kill you makes you afraid. This article is about what doesn’t kill you. I get so tired of the media inspired hysteria and hype. We worry about these non-threats due to the availability heuristic of the human brain that comes from dramatic images and stories we see in the media. We can easily bring to mind examples and it makes our brains think they are common occurrences.
The following numbers are approximations for deaths by various causes in the U.S. in the first decade of the 21st Century. Don’t get caught up in exact numbers, but consider the magnitudes. This is 10 years worth of data.
Total U.S. Deaths in First Decade of 21st Century
5 – Shark
500 – Airline Crash
500 – Lightning
500 – Children Abducted and Killed By Stranger
3,000 – Terrorism
210,000 – Homicide
250,000 – Accidental Falls
315,000 – Liver Disease
320,000 – Accidental Poisoning
350,000 – Automobile Accidents
385,000 – Blood Poisoning
480,000 – Other Accidents
525,000 – Kidney Disease
560,000 – Flu or Pneumonia
770,000 – Diabetes
800,000 – Alzheimer’s
1,400,000 – Any Kind of Accidents (included separately above)
1,430,000 – Lung Disease
1,470,000 – Stroke
6,230,000 – Cancer
6,685,000 – Heart Disease
So shark attack, airplanes, stranger danger, and terrorism are all in the same category as being struck by lightning – so remote as to be almost non-existent. They aren’t even on the chart with everything else.
Some people will say well I’m not worried about my child dying of Alzheimer’s so comparisons to things like that don’t count. OK, but it isn’t all about your kids, it’s about you too. But anyway let’s look at kids only.
500 – Abducted and Killed By Stranger
30,000 – Homicide
75,000 – Automobile Accidents
350,000 – Natural Causes
Your child is 700 times more likely to die of disease than stranger abduction. You should be a lot more worried about them being murdered by someone they know than a stranger in the park. Every time you put them in the car you are much more likely to kill them. I’m not saying drop your child off in a dangerous neighborhood at night and let them find their way home by themselves. I am saying we are worrying about the wrong things. I read a weird statistic once that probably isn’t correct, but it makes the point regardless. It was that in order to get your child abducted and killed by a stranger you would have to leave them unsupervised in the park once a week for 750,000 years.
About the only thing on this list I worry about is cancer. Since I’m about 2,000 times more likely to die of cancer than terrorism and 500 times more likely to die in any kind of accident, I shouldn’t spend one second thinking about terrorism.
I’m 7,000 times more likely to die of one of the top 15 causes of death than I am to die of terrorism. Every time you shove a French fry down the throat of your kid your are more likely to contribute to their early death than by turning your back on them in the park. Once again don’t get caught up in these estimates and whether they are exact. They are illustrations to show relative risks.
What doesn’t kill you is making you afraid and what does kill you is probably being ignored. If you really want you and your child to be safe, stop eating donuts or those French fries and go play in the park. If beyond all logic you are afraid of strangers in the park, then you shouldn’t go. But it’s not because of the stranger it’s because of the much more likely possibility that you will be killed in an accident at the park or on the way to the park than by the stranger. And don’t stop at MacDonald’s on the way home either.
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