Monday, October 7, 2013

Sh#t happens. We need a new relationship to tragedy.

I have wanted to blog on this topic for ages, but got inspired to do it now by reading this blog by a Canadian traveling through Europe.

The gist of it is that Europe treats people  like adults who can gauge their own risks and don't need to be protected from every conceivable danger.

This rant is about the seeming inability of people to deal with the fact that the world is not, never has been and never will be a 100% safe place. There are no guarantees. Face it folks, bad stuff happens. Tragedy is part of the human condition.

What drives me nuts is the following script, frequently heard on the news with variations. What are personal tragedies that have no impact on public life doing on the news anyway? But that is another rant. 

Here goes. Loved one dies, in some newsworthy way. Accident, medical mistake, whatever. A devastated survivor is being interviewed. Sob, sniffle, and: the survivor wants a law passed so that "this will never happen again", so that "no other family will have to go through what we are going through", so that "our loved one did not die in vain..."

Now some good comes from this sentiment. There are battles worth fighting, there are laws worth passing. If personal loss provides the energy behind the fight, great. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is a good example.

But it gets overdone. In particular, the normal desire to keep our children safe is resulting in a generation of greenhouse flowers that is ill prepared for the harsher reality of real life.

At the risk of sounding heartless, as long as the world has both curious toddlers and backyard swimming pools some of the former will drown in the latter. It is sad, it is horrible, but there are only so many safety measures we can take. 

When cyclists become part of the traffic stream, we can expect some of the 'normal' number of traffic fatalities to be cyclists. It is sad, it is horrible, and we definitely want our cities to be designed better. We want to minimize the number of accidents, but we can't make it zero.

I can understand why people in the USA are so eager to sue anyone they can possibly blame. In the absence of a social safety net a legal settlement may be the only way a family can cope with the care for a damaged member. 

Apart from that, part of the need to find blame may be the underlying assumption that life is supposed to be safe. If life does not deliver the goods somebody, somewhere, somehow must be to blame. 

Sorry folks, it ain't necessarily so. For whatever reason, tragedy has always been a part of the human experience. We used to get kicked in the head by horses, now we get car crashes. We used to get epidemics of acute infectious diseases, now we get allergies and cancer. Of course we want to keep striving for the best possible world, but we must acknowledge that perfection is not an option. We must acknowledge that we are not always in control.

I believe children are damaged the most by the need to assign blame in the face of tragedy. Parents are already terrified to let them out of their sight, what with child molesters lurking behind every tree. But to add insult to injury, when a child does get hurt, parents have to deal with finger pointing on top of their grief. Whatever it was that harmed the child, somehow better supervision should have been able to prevent it. This climate may well contribute to the epidemic of hyper vigilance we see around us. 

In my long ago far away childhood the 5 year old brother of my bother's class mate went through the ice under a bridge and drowned. In my class a girl's big brother had been killed in traffic riding his bike at age 8.  These events were discussed as the tragedies they were, but I do not remember anyone suggesting that 5 year olds should not play on the ice with their older siblings, or that 8 year olds should not ride bikes.

There will be other blogs on the topics of risk management and personal responsibility. For now, may I suggest a visit to this great site:


Bekki said...

Well said! I would like to discuss the litigation vs social safety net over wine or coffee... that really lit up some of my neurons, but they fizzled out, because the sun isn't even up yet... but it seems like a very interesting idea.

Ien in the Kootenays said...


troutbirder said...

Thoughtful. This post and the blog link struck a familiar chord with me having just finished reading "The Last Child In The Woods.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Hi Birder, thanks for reading. Yes, great book! My kids were still raised in the woods, literally.