The other day I was talking about hiking with some friends when one of them said that he didn’t like hiking on narrow trails with a lot of brush because rattle snakes could be lurking behind a shrub or under a rock that could bit and kill him. This friend preferred to play life very safe and not take many chances.
I looked up how many rattle snake bite there were in California last year and there were about 350 of which only 2 proved to be fatal. On the other hand there were 625 pedestrian related fatalities in the State in 2011. So one is 300 times more likely to be killed crossing the street than by being bitten by a rattle snake during a hike. We are simply so used to cars and other threats to pedestrians such as dog bite, assaults, robberies, rape, and murders that we don’t consider them significant enough threats to stop us from walking the far more dangerous streets. Each of the other above mentioned pedestrian threats far exceeds fatal snake bites.
The degree of safety and security we feel is largely a matter of how familiar we are with the situation, not how factually safe we really are. Often battered spouses feel more safe and secure living with their abusive spouse than seeking safety outside that toxic relationship because they haven’t experienced more security elsewhere. Battered children will continue living in deplorable conditions because they feel more secure there than in what would be to us an obviously more secure setting elsewhere.
So when a person believes they are playing life safe, are they really? Is hiding all your money under the mattress or in the attic the safest way to secure your money? What if your house burns down or gets robbed. Then what happens to your money. What if you succeed in hiding your money for 20 years under the mattress, is your money worth what it did 20 years earlier? Maybe it would have been safer placing your money in the bank or investing it in some stock that might have increased in value 300% after 20 years. But you could have just as well lost it all in the stock market. But history has shown that the chances are better investing it in stocks than putting it in the bank or hiding it under the mattress.
In fact there are no guarantees in life. Life is about playing the odds. One is always living life by trying to beat the odds. Beating the odds is often counter intuitive. Being killed by a rattle snake bites hiking is far less likely than being killed by a car crossing the street though a deadly snake bite may seem more threatening. Hiding money under the mattress may seem safer than gambling it away in the stock market. In fact placing money under the mattress for 20 years will guarantee the loss of most of its value 20 years later. Investing it in the stock market actually has the greatest odds of getting the greatest value out of it.
One may speculate that staying at home might be safer than traveling because traveling exposes one to more hazards. But staying home may have its own hazards. An airplane might crash into your house or a gas pipeline might explode or a stray bullet might strike you in your house and kill you. You might die of a heart attack due to the lack of activity and exercise. Most of all you would have missed out on many of the joys in life that enrich life and make life worth living. So is playing life extra safe even worth it?
Playing life safe is largely an illusion. That is not to say that it is better to take risks. Taking unnecessary risks may be pushing playing the odds to dangerous extremes. I believe that one should live life to the fullest withing accepted social norms. Social norms have passed the test of time so are generally safe bets. Living an overly sheltered, safe and secure life takes the fun out of life and defeats the reason for living. Living for the mere sake of staying alive as long as possible brings one closer to the level of a wild animal whose only concern is to survive. Hopefully we have evolved beyond that state.
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