Risk Management

I was watching the news – again – and it seems that a Navy jet has crashed into an apartment building. Considering how rarely such an event occurs, I would expect a certain kind of media spin. Perhaps something about how accidents are rare, and yes this is tragedy, but it could be so much worse. Naturally, the media is spinning it in the other direction, as it does with so many other stories. In aggregate, these stories almost seem to be directed at making us believe in a ridiculous myth.

Here’s the myth: “We should eliminate all risk from life.” And while we’re at it, “The best risk management system on Earth is the United States government. Those dudes will handle your problems, people.” We’ll save that topic for another day.

For now, forget that second part. The base of operations for the crashed F-18 has been there for a long time. It was once in the middle of open land which has since been packed full of development. If you choose to live under the daily flight paths of high performance jet aircraft, you are automatically, whether you consider it or not, assuming the risk that one day, one of these machines may fall into your living room. If you decide to build your apartment complex under the same piece of sky, better check your insurance coverage carefully. Seems pretty basic, right?

Well, that’s the thing. If you listen long enough, one of two things can happen. One, you can come to believe that life is as safe as the media and its glossy commercials tell you at every opportunity. Or two, you can think it through, understand that life is chock full of risk, and make your decisions based on what you can actually control. Just like women are bombarded with a standard that is virtually guaranteed to make them feel inadequate, all of us are hammered with a mythical message of a safe and secure life that only makes sense if you fail to pay attention.

Why? Paying attention reveals that the mythical message is far more insidious than simply selling us on an image. At the same time we are being told that such security is possible if we only trust in the right authorities, we are being shown a constant stream of fear. Terrorism, sexual predators, home invaders, and environmental disaster lead a parade of amorphous threats than can undermine us in a million ways. If we’re not very careful, we could, heaven forbid, take a hit on our 401(k), fail to collect the optimum number of miles from the dangling carrot of credit card rewards, or offend the cultural sensibilities of a person with an extraordinary collection of tattoos. Video games make our children fat and violent. Foul language destroys our very souls. Fear it! Fear it all! Then buy the thing that can miraculously fix it, whether the fix is Life Alert (I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!) or another bloated government program full of unintended or unpleasant consequences (TSA anyone?).

Paying attention can also reveal that it’s all bullshit (there goes my soul). Everything you hear through a media outlet has a purpose. It’s never just an altruistic desire to tell you what you need to know. Even this blog has a purpose or two. I’ll just go ahead and fess up. Yes, I want you to buy my books. Yes, I want you to tell your friends. Yes, I’d even like it if you click through on my Amazon links from time to time. But behind that is the reason that I write at all. If there is a common thread in all of it, it’s that I want us all to understand that we can think for ourselves, that despite the many messages with many agendas, we owe it to ourselves to take charge of our own rightful thoughts and beliefs, and to live as if he we have the right to make our own decisions.

So, risk. Life is risk. You can be attacked in the parking lot. You can be hit by a bus that rolled up on the sidewalk after the driver had a massive heart attack. You can die in your bed when a Russian satellite from the 60’s punches a hole in your roof. You can slip and fall as you hike the mountainside. Your children can grow up to be drug addicts. You can become the target of an insane arsonist. Literally anything is possible, but even if you add up all the risks you can imagine, the odds are still in your favor.

You can prepare, you can plan, you can make every reasonable move to protect yourself, but you cannot eliminate risk. No one can save you from it, so all I ask is that we stop trying to believe that we can ultimately be saved from every pain that life can offer. We do the best we can, and we keep moving ahead, no matter what happens. We mourn the tragedy, we make reasonable adjustments, and we recover to live another day.

To every talking head who is throwing out the question of whether the whole concept of flying jets around populated areas is something we should stop, I say the real question is, should we allow unbridled development around military bases with all their dangerous machinery? If we want the security of a strong military with well trained pilots and top-notch aircraft, then the obvious and unavoidable cost is to accept the minor risk that every now and then, something will go wrong.