When you park your car, do you lock the doors? Of course you do! Do you hide your valuables in the trunk? Probably. It’s a force of habit, based on the very rational consideration that if you didn’t, someone might break-in and steal them. But what are the chances? And how do your assumptions affect your perception of the world?
I find this topic interesting because it’s an intersection of risk management theory and sociology. It’s an analysis that we all perform independently in our lives, as we recognize and manage the risks that we face. When it comes to personal security, we aim to protect our health, our well-being, and our property.
Let’s assume you’ve parked in a relatively safe neighborhood where the probability of car burglary is 1 in a thousand. Do you still lock the doors and hideaway your goods? Probably. What if you park in a bad neighborhood where the chances are more like 1 in 5? Absolutely! Well, isn’t it interesting that you must take the same action in both scenarios? The probabilities are drastically different, but you only really have two choices – to lock up, or not to lock up. No matter the actual risk, the behavior is identical and prepares you for the worst. In this case, you must assume the threat of burglary exists and mitigate it by reducing the opportunity, mainly by making it harder for the thief to burgle you.
What I find interesting is that it is a binary decision, with only two possible choices. If the chances of a thief wandering by are 20% in the bad neighborhood, you can’t respond proportionately by hiding only 20% of your stuff. It’s all or nothing, so most of us find it rational to take all precautions. Better safe than sorry, right?
But at what cost? When we act as if the threat always exists, it can affect our perception of the world around us. Over time, that perception shift may cause us to over-compensate more often, making the risk seem worse than it really is. In this way, the actions we take to make us safer, end up making us feel less safe.
On the other hand, the only other option is to act as if the threat doesn’t exist, which is clearly flawed. If you do that, you’ll lose your car 20% of the time in our hypothetical bad neighborhood.
We are forced to make binary choices even though the odds are actually somewhere between 0 and 100%, so instead, we need to remain conscientious that our assumptions don’t accurately reflect reality. We can act in binary, but think correspondingly. So as illogical as it may be, I like to leave things unlocked every once in a while just to remind myself that the threat isn’t always there. And knowing that has value to me.
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