Both sorrow and fear about the Boston tragedy

Smarter people have weighed in on the sadness in Boston. I can’t help it. Writing helps me feel better.

I am really sorry for the people who have lost life or limb. As a parent, grandparent, scratch that, as a fellow human, just thinking about bombs and bullets hitting human bodies makes me want to cry. It’s as senseless as the rest of the world’s human-induced tragedies. Is evil any less sad across an ocean? In my blessed cocoon of a life, it’s hard to comprehend this level of evil.

I am fearful too.

Call me naïve, but I harbor little fear of crime and terrorism. Heck, on a statistical level, it is far riskier just driving home from work. (Think texting and driving).

What really frightens me is others’ fear. I dread the response. When people get scared, bad things happen: freedom is diminished; common sense is jettisoned and bad policies become accepted. A colleague today in the doctor’s lounge had it right: he used the word—marionettes.

Our airports are the easy example. Look at how US society has accepted the TSA farce. Illusion.

Never events that occur in the hospital are another example. Most recently, there was a sentinel event alert on hospital monitors. Alas, more policing (monitoring) actually made matters worse; it led caregivers to miss real alarms.

It pains me to write something so obvious, but what makes the US such an amazing place to live is freedom. The phrase, you don’t know what you have till it’s gone, keeps ringing in my head.

Oh, how I fear the loss of freedom that comes from the attempt to prevent rare events. Another word…futility.

Is our society coming apart? I don’t think so. The little history that I have studied suggests we live in a far more peaceful world. You don’t have to go back many years to witness much darker chapters in humanity.

That said, though, don’t you, too, worry about society’s grasp of common sense? For instance, why do we struggle so much with obviousness? Can there be no tolerable level of bad stuff? Perhaps we don’t do a good enough job teaching statistics and basic human nature. It’s just like in Medicine: too much alertness is often worse than too little.

This would be an easy week to be pessimistic about humans.

But one will fight pessimism. It’s bad for the blood vessels and stirs chronic inflammation.

So let’s hope.

I will hope that this great country will grow more tolerant, less insular and less polarized by religion and politics. I will hope that these sorts of failings of humanity teach us that the best way to live together on this planet is kindness and tolerance, not barricades, metal detectors and surveillance.


3 replies on “Both sorrow and fear about the Boston tragedy”

“Can there be no tolerable level of bad stuff?”

As a big picture guy, this bugs me too. We’ve lost some sense of our statistical place in the world.

I choose to view our intolerance for ‘bad stuff’ as a side effect of tremendous progress. It’s a side effect of our good fortune.

My Grandparents thought it not uncommon to be crippled from Polio or maimed in a farm accident. My kids can’t name a single friend who has ‘suffered’ from chicken pox.

My Grandparents could list dozens of classmates and neighbors who died in war. My kids have only met a handful of people who have ever been to war.

That bad things are so unusual – it’s a good thing. If it causes some lack of perspective in the process, so be it. I’ll take that trade off.

Dr. John for President. 3,000 people killed as a result of texting and driving. No one gives a crap.

Thank you Dr. John for writing this, because now I know that I am not the only one that believes that the mass infantilization of our society is not a good thing.

Thank you Dr. John — Very well stated! I actually insist that my daughter take statistics as an elective in high school for this very reason.

While I, and I suspect most of us, would prefer that there were no ‘bad stuff’ I also recognize that this is an impossible dream. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for common sense ways to reduce bad stuff — safe and effective vaccines, cutting down on texting and driving are great examples. Sometimes we with the best of intentions inadvertently make things worse; and we need to admit that and move on instead of clinging to the hope that it will somehow suddenly get better

If you haven’t already read his work – you might enjoy taking a look at Dan Ariely’s writings on irrationality…

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