Three Questions about Risk and Worry

“Read the part again where Chicken Little lets his insurance lapse.”

Leave it to the madcap monks of 1662 to come up with this bit of wisdom:

“Fear of harm ought to be proportional not merely to the gravity of the harm, but also to the probability of the event.”*

In modern language this means if something is highly dangerous but unlikely, don’t worry. If something is highly likely but not dangerous, don’t worry. If something is highly dangerous and highly likely, worry!

Here are my three questions.

1. What things are you worried about that are dangerous but unlikely? Meteor hitting Bellingham? Terrorist attack in Ferndale? Mt. Baker erupting and lava flowing down Meridian? These are unlikely, so relax.

2. What things are you worried about that are likely but not dangerous? Hat hair in public? A scary but harmless nightmare? Locking your keys in your car? These are no big deal, so relax.

3. Why worry about things that are highly dangerous and highly likely? Worrying won’t stop unpleasant things from happening. Instead of worrying, take precautions–buy auto, health, and home insurance, don’t eat so much bacon, floss, look both ways before you cross the street. And relax.

————–

*From the book LOGIC, 1662, published by the Port Royal Monastery, quoted in Against the Gods, Bernstein, p. 99.

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