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What social norms do you break with no consequence?
December 11, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

What am I missing because most people think it is too dangerous; even though you know it is just fine?

What social norms do you break with no consequence?

I worry too much. Not so much that I need to talk with someone or take drugs. However, I do avoid activities that will likely end horribly.

I watched a friend get served and then rip the letter in half without opening it. He was nonchalant about it and I was flabbergasted. Six months later the court case ruled in his favor. He had ignored the entire thing and it all was fine. His insurance had taken care of everything, and he thought it would be all right. It was, but it turns out he almost lost his house.

I could not have done that, I would be physically ill at the idea of a pending court case that I did not even know the details of. I see people do things all the time that would kill me. I have seen people: keep blue ring octopuses as pets, go swimming while “No Swimming, Shark Spotted” signs are up, they steal from department stores, run red lights, and speed like the devil.

I will not do these things because they all look too dangerous to me, just not worth it. But people decide to do it, and they seem to be alright.

I do not live a sheltered life; I eat raw cookie dough and freedive/spearfish in Northern California during the winter. When I do either of the above people gasp and proclaim the dangers, I have never had a problem.

What activities do you participate in that make people gasp, while there is no real danger. I am wondering what things I should worry less about and just jump in. Do you mix red and white wine? Go rock climbing with no rope? What am I missing because most people think it is too dangerous even though you know it is just fine? Bonus points for superstitious things.
posted by Felex to Society & Culture (63 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Flying is an obvious one. If you're okay with getting in a car, you should be more than okay with getting on a plane.

I'm a germaphobe. It's totally irrational. I'm not going to die from touching the mens-room doorknob.

I also tend to be be super anal about recommended doses of medicine. While, of course, it's true that you can overdose on an drug and die (or get really sick), it's kind of dumb how I freak out if I see someone take three aspirins instead of two.

This fear is almost dead, but... NYC isn't dangerous. It's an extremely safe city. It didn't used to be. It is now. Every once in a while, I still hear about someone scared to come here, because they don't want to get mugged. I've lived here for 15 years and have never been mugged or assaulted in any way.
posted by grumblebee at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2010


None of the things you mention are things that are "just fine" - your friends are clearly just careless of consequences.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:04 PM on December 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


first off: "I do not live a sheltered life; I eat raw cookie dough" belongs on a business card. that line is nothing but pure awesomeness.

What am I missing because most people think it is too dangerous even though you know it is just fine?

I think you are alluding to the simple difference between optimists and pessimists. the former knows that no matter what the sun will always rise the day after and that the worst that could happen is something they could probably deal with while the latter can't enjoy the same endeavor for fear of the vivid images of the worst possible outcome overshadowing the actual experiences.

What activities do you participate in that make people gasp
noooo, let's not go there. that would be chatfilter.
posted by krautland at 12:08 PM on December 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


I see people do things all the time that would kill me. I have seen people: keep blue ring octopuses as pets, go swimming while “No Swimming, Shark Spotted” signs are up, they steal from department stores, run red lights, and speed like the devil.

With all due respect, I think you're thinking about this the wrong way. Everything you have mentioned - including eating raw cookie dough and spearfishing - involves a certain amount of risk. What is important is to distinguish between high-risk, high-consequence activities and low-risk, high-consequence ones. The former are very likely to happen and to lead to extremely bad outcomes, the latter are unlikely to happen but, if they do, will lead to extremely bad outcomes. Almost everything that you've mentioned is the latter: 100 people may go swimming at a beach with “No Swimming, Shark Spotted” signs, and 99 of them will suffer no consequences whatsoever. But for that one person who does, the consequences will be dire.

So when you ask the following -

What activities do you participate in that make people gasp, while there is no real danger... What am I missing because most people think it is too dangerous even though you know it is just fine?

- you might be asking one of two things: (1) What activities do you participate in whose worst consequences are not as bad as people think? or (2) What activities do you participate in whose worst consequences are really really bad, but are highly unlikely to happen?

Eating raw cookie dough would qualify as (1) - the worst outcome (food poisoning, but not death) really isn't too bad. Freediving/spearfishing is (2) - the worst outcome (death) is pretty bad, but if you are well-trained and attentive, its highly unlikely to happen.

FWIW, recently I went skydiving, which many people thought was completely crazy because it was so risky. I knew that it was risky, but I also knew that a skydiving accident was a classic low-probability, high consequence outcome. I think people are unduly afraid of skydiving because they overestimate the danger; but I would never say it is "just fine" or there is "no real danger."
posted by googly at 12:19 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


googly, I could rephrase the question to read what perceived high risk; low reward activities are actually low risk; high reward.
posted by Felex at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2010


I ride my bike without a helmet. (When on road.)
I eat fast food frequently. (Secret: small portions to keep the calories down.)
I dive head first into swimming pools despite the signs that say "no diving". (Then I apologize if scolded.)
I don't hesitate to go beyond a recommended dose of OTC pain relievers if necessary. (Isn't double the dose essentially prescription strength?)
I am 50 years old and I have not seen a doctor in well over a decade. (OK, that might be a stupid one.)

In all of these cases I have made a calculated decision that the imagined risk is seriously overestimated.

Tearing up a summons is not making a calculated decision about risk. It's just being impulsively self destructive.
posted by dzot at 12:26 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's amazing to me what some people will consider dangerous... I've moved to cities where I know no one and had less than a thousand dollars in my pocket for the main reason that I wanted to see what it was like to live in that city. Just the thought of doing that sends some people I know into panic attacks.

I also live full time in my RV - by choice. Some people think that's extremely dangerous. I don't think it's any more dangerous than living in a house.

I, myself, would never skydive or go spear fishing. But I have a strong phobia of planes and water - so there's that.
posted by patheral at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Visiting Colombia.
posted by jontyjago at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you have unusually cavalier and perhaps lucky friends, so don't gauge "normal" from their experiences.
posted by amtho at 12:31 PM on December 11, 2010


I hate to say this, but… living in Baltimore as a white person. I spent 7 years there during and after college, and everyone I've ever told this was horrified. Baltimore's homicide rate (for whites) is about on par with Omaha, NE. As an undergrad, I lived in a pretty grungy part of town and never had any run-ins with crime.
posted by Nomyte at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most cooked food (perhaps with the exception of seafood) is ok to leave on the counter after dinner and eat for lunch the next day.
Me and my wife do it. Her family does it. My family does it.

Extending grumblee's point about NYC: Most major cities in the world are quite safe to walk around in most neighborhoods at most times. People do get mugged, robbed even murdered, yes. But these things make the front page and so there is a sense the world is much more dangerous than it really is.
posted by vacapinta at 12:41 PM on December 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


a few completely mundane things that I do without hesitation that seems to stress some people out: drinking tap water, forgoing hand sanitizers, sitting down on toilet seats in public bathrooms instead of hovering, traveling internationally, taking public transportation (specifically, the bus), questioning things, jaywalking, eating leftover spicy food for breakfast, talking to strangers.
posted by raztaj at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I drive in downtown Boston or Manhattan all the time without even thinking about it.
posted by Melismata at 12:50 PM on December 11, 2010


It's amazing to me what some people will consider dangerous... I've moved to cities where I know no one and had less than a thousand dollars in my pocket for the main reason that I wanted to see what it was like to live in that city. Just the thought of doing that sends some people I know into panic attacks.

Oh my goodness, this. Also, driving alone. People freak out when I say I drove across the country (US) alone, but they also freak out when I say I drove for 2 hours alone. I've also lived in Israel; you will never convince some people that it's very safe there. And New York, which statistically is very very safe. And St. Louis, which statistically you'd think you could never get out alive, but I never found it anything other than perfectly fine.

I'm a pretty cautious person and probably wouldn't do anything that I thought was dangerous. But I have come to the conclusion that "most people" think everything is dangerous.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:54 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Generally one fear you can discount is fear of wild animal attacks. Not that they don't happen, but they are always exaggerated.

If you tell someone you're going to drive up to Alaska and go hiking in the backcountry, they will be sure to warn you of almost certain bear attacks, despite the fact you are more likely to killed on the drive up then by a bear.

Sharks kill on average one person in the US per year.

But I think your question of what perceived risks are worth their reward is impossible to answer without knowing what you find rewarding. Hiking in the Alaska backcountry at the risk of bear attack isn't worth the risk if you hate backpacking.
posted by justkevin at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2010


Low risk, high reward (especially for introverts): putting oneself in a social situation that seems uncomfortable but with the potential high reward of making new friends etc. I'm assuming here that social failure is perceived as high risk, but is actually low risk since there ordinarily is no real damage.

On physical risk: there are many actions that if done rarely are low risk, but if repeated become high risk in aggregate. For example, let's say the chances of being mauled by a shark from one instance of swimming is 1/500. Some people might reasonably conclude that 1/500 isn't a bad cost in exchange for the thrill. But if they repeated that risk 100 times the chances of things going bad are closer to 1 in 5, which most people would find unacceptable.
posted by Kevin S at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not much of a thrill-seeker, but I do eat raw or nearly-raw beef every so often, either in the form of steak tartare, kitfo, or steak cooked "blue," which is a step rarer than rare. And of course I eat raw fish at sushi restaurants on a regular basis, but people don't seem to raise their eyebrows over that any more.
posted by lore at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2010


I could rephrase the question to read what perceived high risk; low reward activities are actually low risk; high reward

I think your rephrase of the question is much better and more clear.

The first one that comes to mind is going to Newark, NJ, one of those places that is sometimes called the title "Murder Capital of America" by one newspaper or another. This is a town where the Gateway complex was built -- it is a series of enclosed, elevated hallways linking a bunch of buildings and the train station downtown. It was built so businesspeople wouldn't have to dare to walk on Newark's streets.

I lived in Newark for a time, and when my extended family found out I was moving there, they were horrified. They had lived in the suburbs just outside the city for their entire lives and their perceptions were colored by the race riots of the 60s and the later crack epidemic there. One aunt told me to get used to hearing gunshots regularly and having drug addicts chase me down the street.

As it happened, I have never once felt myself to be in danger in Newark, despite walking there at night, taking the subway, taking the subway at night, etc. (Then again, there were certain *areas* of Newark I didn't dare to go, I mainly stayed downtown). There were some random acts of extreme violence on streets I walked down daily, but I had the sense it was largely gang activity. So, ironically, it's one of the places where I've actually felt safer as a woman. When strangers look at me and judge me by my appearance, "rival gang member" isn't what comes to mind.

So, I would say the activity with low risk and high reward is living in Newark's downtown, if you're looking for an area with a short commute to the West Side of Manhattan with mega low rents, or if your job is in Newark, or if you are a student there, etc., and money/commute time is a concern for you.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eating raw milk cheeses, when you have the opportunity (i.e. not in the U.S.).
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some things that people seem to get more worried about than I do:
skydiving
hitchhiking
living in "bad" neighborhoods
visiting israel
flying in general (I'm always surprised people are still frightened of this - it's like a bus trip...)

But as to your larger question: there is also just the component that life isn't fair. Sometimes people who are very careful get into terrible accidents, and sometimes people who are really reckless get off without a scratch. I know people who have been really irresponsible but everything's worked out, and vice versa. So it's good to take responsibility for your choices, but don't imagine you have control of everything.
posted by mdn at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2010


Oops, should have specified fresh raw milk cheeses.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2010


Skydiving -- I wouldn't say it's completely low risk, but the person I jumped in tandem with had done ~10000 jumps, and his primary parachute had failed 16 times. His backup parachute opened all times and he was fine (obviously or he wouldn't be there). That works out to odds of 16/10000 * 16/10000 (assuming that one parachute failing is independent of the other parachute failing) or approximately two and a half fatalities per million jumps. Those are odds I can live with. I would do it again.

Food safety -- I quite routinely eat things that other people would be a bit horrified at. Rare or raw beef (steak tartare mmm), raw fish or pork, I've even tried specially prepared raw chicken sushi. It's all about the quality of the meat. Salmonella is wildly overblown and I eat raw eggs with impunity. Having grown up in a place where eggs were never refrigerated, I feel quite comfortable eating eggs that have been left out for a few hours. I've never tried fugu (the Japanese preparation of blow fish, which if improperly prepared results in immediate death due to neurotoxicity from the sodium channel inhibitor tetrodotoxin), but I would in a heartbeat if given the chance to eat some prepared by a reputable chef.
posted by peacheater at 1:25 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like there are two things going on. You probably worry more than is reasonable, but some of the examples of successful not worrying are based on luck or hidden risk assessment.

Like the "no diving" example. Some of those signs are for the safety of the diver (hidden rocks underwater), but others are for the safety of the pool area and other patrons. So when the guy dives, even though it looks like he's just ignoring the sign without consequences, he hopefully has already made sure there aren't any other rocks or swimmers in his way.

You too might tear up a summons, if you already knew what it contained.

despite the fact you are more likely to killed on the drive up then by a bear.

Only because people take extra precautions against the fear of bears and not enough while driving. Behavior changes the probability of a lot of things- what you do might not change the odds of the population as a whole very much (because most of the population is never exposed to the risk of bear attack), but it greatly effects your personal odds while doing the thing.

Flying is safer than driving BECAUSE it is inherently more dangerous than driving. Which is why so many precautions are taken. Stop taking the precautions, and it becomes much less safe than driving.
posted by gjc at 1:34 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hate to say this, but… living in Baltimore as a white person. I spent 7 years there during and after college, and everyone I've ever told this was horrified. Baltimore's homicide rate (for whites) is about on par with Omaha, NE. As an undergrad, I lived in a pretty grungy part of town and never had any run-ins with crime.

I can relate...for a period of time in 1997 I was without a vehicle and had to ride the bus to work (I lived on the northeast side of Detroit, and worked near I-94 and Mt. Elliott.) I was always the only white person aboard the bus and I lost count of the times that either the bus driver along the route or some older person at the bus stop at Harper and Gratiot (where I had to change buses) said to me "Girl, what's wrong with you?" (Direct quote.) The first time I was asked that question I quickly checked myself to make sure my skirt wasn't tucked in the back of my pantyhose, but then the follow-up comment ("What's a nice white girl like you doing here?") alerted me to the asker's concern. (After I'd taken my seat I had time to ponder the fact that the driver had immediately assumed that I was "nice" because I was white and fairly well-dressed. Heck, Ted Bundy was always well-groomed, too.)

I've also been consuming raw cake batter and cookie dough since I was tall enough to sneak a finger into the mixing dish. And I've been eating undercooked (by today's standards, anyway; I like to hear my burger/steak moo when I bite into it) beef all of my life.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2010


Oh yeah, nthing the disregard for food "safety": I pretty much never wash produce unless it looks visibly grimy and then typically just wipe off the dirt. I eat gas station hotdogs and take pills or vitamins after the expiration date. This morning I ate some canned gelled cranberry sauce I had inadvertently left in a cabinet overnight.

I go everywhere alone all the time, by car, plane, bike, or foot, at any hour of the day or night. I walked unaccompanied all over some large cities late at night and drove long distances alone in the days before cell phones. Many people would consider any of that unacceptable for a female human. It never occurs to me to be afraid unless there's an actual scary situation/person present.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's perfectly all right to eat whatever's fallen on the floor. No one, NO ONE has died or gotten sick from eating a popcorn kernel or slice of toast that's fallen to the floor.
You want cites?
I said so.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:43 PM on December 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


1. Eat food from seedy looking mexican restaurants and taco trucks. Always delicious- and I have never gotten sick! Upset stomach, on the other hand, is the price of admission.

2. Give a performance/public speech when you are unprepared. It is thrilling. Most everyone (except you) will forget any wincey-ness that might ensue.

3. Snowboarding out of bounds.
posted by palacewalls at 1:47 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in a "bad" neighborhood that makes all my coworkers cluck with concern. My mortgage is dirt cheap and my commute almost nonexistent.

Meanwhile, they're paying several times as much for housing in neighborhoods with higher crime rates and much longer commutes... but at least they get to live next door to other upper middle class white people! :P
posted by Jacqueline at 1:57 PM on December 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Walking unaccompanied in public after dark.

Clearly expressing romantic interest in available, ethically appropriate people even if there is a possibility of rejection.
posted by tel3path at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have never used anti-virus software.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Eating tons of butter, saturated fat, and animal products! It's wonderful for you but the common, incorrect perception is that it'll give you a heart attack. It might make you smarter, though.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think there's two kinds of risky behaviors mentioned--physical risk and psychological risk. I'm not all that physically daring, outside of eating anything and using public toilets, but I couldn't care less about getting yelled at, being told off by authority figures (including cops, lawyers, bosses, and so on). , or being told not to do something that I want to do. I'm always astounded when people get worried that they might get yelled at or be given dirty looks. What's the BFD?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:03 PM on December 11, 2010


Obligatory Fred Stoller.
posted by rhizome at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2010


The fact that someone engaged in an activity and did not experience the worst possible outcome says nothing about whether or not the activity is wise or low-risk. Getting away with it doesn't mean it's not stupid.
posted by The World Famous at 2:18 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


The same friend who tore that legal document in half may end up in jail the next time. So, in a sense, what you are missing is the possibility of truly screwing yourself over by doing something juvenile. It's usually easier to look back and spot stupid decisions after the fact than it is to spot wise ones... usually because the entire reason one finds himself looking back on past decisions is because he did something he regrets.

Maybe that's what you're missing?
posted by 2oh1 at 2:33 PM on December 11, 2010


What you don't know about your friend's episode may be something like this: a default was entered because he did not answer the legal complaint on time, his insurance company learned that he had been served and defaulted, they hired a lawyer and moved to set aside the default (or got an agreement from the other side), and the case was put back on track, but only after a lot of money was spent to get it back on track.

This I have seen, too: defendant is served, disregards the service, a default is entered, his insurer finds out, a motion to set aside the default is filed, the motion is denied, and the insurer denies coverage for failure to cooperate with the defense. The defendant is left to pay for his defense and pay any damages awarded out of his own pocket.
posted by yclipse at 2:54 PM on December 11, 2010


This. Consider also that many people who do things like shredding summonses have belief systems that justify numerous risky behaviours. They may also not really care about the consequences they've suffered so far. But as I can personally attest, if you know them for any length of time, eventually it does come home to roost. Very often it's a clusterfuck because the presenting disaster is teetering atop a towering pile of bad habits.
posted by tel3path at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2010


Thanks for all the great responses. As for my friends legal matters; he knew it was over a car accident that had happened a while back. He got a call from the insurance company saying so before the summons arrived. They said to hire a lawyer, he told them to take care of it and hung up and then did not speak to them or read a single piece of paper regarding it. He figured it would all work its self out...it did. I could not do that.

On a more related note, I think I will start eating things that are left out more often.
posted by Felex at 3:50 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many perceived "high risk/low reward" activities are based on lack of experience. For example, driving in the snow.

I have years of experience driving in the snow, I don't see it as high a risk as someone who grew up in Florida and never saw the stuff.

I would look at someone who shaves with a straight razor as crazy, but many people do, despite the fact it could kill you.
posted by jeremias at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2010


For example, let's say the chances of being mauled by a shark from one instance of swimming is 1/500. Some people might reasonably conclude that 1/500 isn't a bad cost in exchange for the thrill. But if they repeated that risk 100 times the chances of things going bad are closer to 1 in 5, which most people would find unacceptable.

It doesn't work like that. The odds that are changed by repeated "chances" are the ones that include some kind of grouping, like time or population. If a lottery ticket has a 1:32,000 chance of winning, it always has that same chance. If you buy 10 tickets, that grouping has a 10:32,000 chance, but each ticket maintains its odds.

Same thing with coin flips. Every flip (of a non-weighted, regulation coin) has a 1:2 chance of heads. The chances of getting 100 heads in a row are astrinomical. But the chance the next flip will be tails is still 1:2.

In other words: the shark doesn't know how many times you have been swimming.
posted by gjc at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I put on a cardigan or nice acrylic v-neck sweater and my Mephisto sandals and go to a dive bar and get super-shitfaced when they've got hardcore/punk/death metal shows.
posted by Lukenlogs at 5:35 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eat eggs past their sell-by date. Seriously. Those sell-bys are nuts. So is that thing we do where we keep them religiously in the fridge. I know a lot of Hondurans. They keep their eggs in the cardboard packages on the counter from the day they come back to the store. In six years, I have yet to see one case of food poisoning. As for the sell-by date: Take your egg, shell & all, drop it in a glass of water. See if it floats. If it's kind of bobbing at, maybe a little above, the water line, you're FINE. So keep your "expired" eggs & experiment for a few weeks. Pretty soon you'll be rolling your eyes at expiration dates just like I do.

This tip brought to you by The Farmer's Daughter. (My old roommate, not me.)
posted by Ys at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: Sleep in the tub. Most people, I think, can't get away with this one. I am an *extremely* light sleeper, and can also count on remaining completely motionless while I'm asleep. I would not try it for a full night's sleep (among other things, the water gets too cold), but I do take fully-asleep naps.
posted by Ys at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2010


When it comes to the personal safety pearl clutching, gender figures into it. I do wonder how often a male similar to me gets the "be careful/are you sure that's safe/I worry about you" comments that I get. This is for things like hiking alone on a trail, walking in the alley behind my apartment alone at night, riding my bike in a city full of agressive drivers (extra safety points for doing it at night), and other such things.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:24 PM on December 11, 2010


In other words: the shark doesn't know how many times you have been swimming.

Hmm ... there are two different things being talked about here. I know the coin flip stat, and the idea of a gambler's fallacy, but the coin flip scenario doesn't apply to the shark. True, if you repeatedly "bet" on swimming, each individual time in the ocean gives you 500 to 1 odds of being eaten. Each swim is no more or less likely to end in death than the previous one.

However, if you repeat this behavior over and over again, repeatedly exposing yourself to the shark, you increase the likelihood of being eaten in the aggregate. Swim enough times, and you will be eaten.

* Take two people. They both go swimming. They both face 500 to 1 odds and win -- no shark. Great.

Now, one of them decides to never go swimming ever again, while the other one eagerly jumps back into the waves again. And again. And again. Each time in the water is a 500 to 1 bet ... but the shark will win eventually. In fact, according to the math, he has to.

This is the issue ... someone will look at 500 to 1 odds and think, "Kick ass," but the same person may discount the aggregate effect of repeatedly betting. This is why Vegas makes money. You can be the greatest blackjack player in the world ... but the house will always win. Another cocktail, sir? How about a comped room? Have you seen Cirque du Soliel's new show? We can get you tickets ...

Analogy: Condoms have a 3 percent failure rate. Go ahead, have sex. Pregnant? No? Great. Break out another condom and do it again. And again. And again. Eventually, you'll lose. In fact, according to the math, if you burn through 300 condoms, you're expected to have a baby.

Also, if you burn through 300 condoms ... congratulations.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:29 PM on December 11, 2010


I'm on the American River in a raft about to go over a rapid nicknamed "Troublemaker". My guide pulls the raft over to the bank and vomits over the edge. I ask him if he's sick. He says, "No, it's just nerves". I think to myself"Holy Mole, this is going to be awful and I'm too ignorant to realize this". It was a blast.
posted by effluvia at 6:53 PM on December 11, 2010


I'm going to veer off a bit and suggest that you watch all the statistics-related videos on Khan Academy or ExamSolutions, or at least walk through a few problems that analyze actual statistics (e.g. the probability that a person has HIV or that a fetus has Down Syndrome, given a positive test result, or the probability that a car stolen in Los Angeles will be returned within one week.) You don't need to know much to develop a much better ability to gauge actual risk, and, at least in my experience, to de-mystify life in a positive way.
posted by littlegreenlights at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2010


I moved to Japan for no other reason than I had nothing better to do. Whereas I thought it would be an interesting new life change, a lot of my friends said, "Wow. I could never do that." I became a high school teacher with no formal classroom experience other than an image in my mind of what a high school teacher "should" be. Thanks to really good colleagues, that worked out.

I have willingly eaten chicken sashimi.

On the other hand, ask me to go to a party or a conference or a social gathering and "make new friends" and I will freeze up, think of every way things could end up going badly, and make excuses to leave.

Everyone's risk/reward system is different.
posted by MShades at 7:16 PM on December 11, 2010


I have been to metal shows where the 'venue' is an apartment rooftop, the 'entrance' is a rickety wooden staircase that is nearly falling apart, and the 'main act' is the Seattle Police Dept. pulling in and ordering us to shut down via megaphone.

Good times, good times.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2010


I'm American and I moved overseas, to Egypt, for two years with my family, including two young kids. Very low risk and high reward, but so many people think we're high-flying adventurers because of this--they're also shocked to hear that Cairo is a pretty safe city for Americans.

For several years I lived in a rural, mountainous area and worked in outdoor recreation, as a whitewater raft guide and kayak instructor, along with other less exciting jobs like reservations clerk and marketing person. Many people would take vacations up to that area and thought the idea of actually working there seemed pretty crazy.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:17 PM on December 11, 2010



posted by tksh at 9:22 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


However, if you repeat this behavior over and over again, repeatedly exposing yourself to the shark, you increase the likelihood of being eaten in the aggregate. Swim enough times, and you will be eaten.

If I go swimming, I have 499 chances of not being eaten and one of being eaten. If I go swimming twice, don't I get another 499 chances to not be eaten to go against my 2 attempts at swimming? Resulting in odds of 2:1000 for the aggregate? I get exposed to the risk as much as the reward, don't I?

Swimming 1000 times and not being eaten twice is defying the odds. But the next time I swim, there is no greater chance of being eaten.

We are confusing two different things. The odds of getting eaten by a shark during a dip in the ocean might be our made up 1:500. But the lifetime odds of a person being eaten by a shark have to be much greater, because we spend a lot more time out of the ocean than in it. I have no idea of how to calculate that number. But we can't say that, statistically, I WILL be eaten by the shark until I have gone swimming THAT many times. (Maybe double that many times, because wouldn't an odds like that be a median?)
posted by gjc at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2010


The following "threats" have negligible risk, despite lots of hype in the media:

- Terrorism
- Mad cow disease
- Vaccines
- Stranger danger
- Trick-or-treating (fear of poisonous candy)

If you're interested in this topic, read the book Risk.

I asked a related question here.
posted by lunchbox at 10:12 PM on December 11, 2010


-Living in Pakistan
-Hiring a beat up old jeep and driver to drive up to the source of the Swat river (cross glaciers, steep drop on one side, landslides on another). What makes it low risk? The driver knows his stuff.
posted by bardophile at 10:42 PM on December 11, 2010


I wrote a long, impassioned, anecdotal post and then tried to condense it - this is the reduced version, I hope it makes sense and that I reigned in the "If you're not outraged!"-ness to an acceptable level.

Spend any time in a third world country, or any less-affluent society for that matter, and you will learn just how sanitized, isolated, complacent and unaware our experience in the first world has become with regard to food, hygiene, standard of living, transportation safety, street smarts- even day-to-day social interactions.

My experience is drawn from time spent with my (lower-middle class) family in Colombia, where on the street outside our house (which we are fortunate enough to afford) there is blatant poverty present every day. When such need is in your face all the time and the government infrastructure can’t adequately address it or even, say, ordered street traffic, and the large majority of the people don't have much but just enough, the tendency is to make do, share with and rely on the community.

I'm talking just enough money for food, consistently unreliable electricity, no hot water for bathing except what you can boil, any form of transportation coming with a legitimately grave risk to life, break-ins and street thieves accepted as the norm, people missing limbs and teeth wailing and begging outside your front door, so many feral dogs and cats everywhere they're dealt with as pests, animal drawn carts occupying 50% of road traffic, and environmental and urban degradation wherever you look a matter of fact.

All this contributes to a cultural ecosystem which encourages survivalist practicality underscored by a need for social adroitness that the more affluent can afford not to cultivate (or simply do without as the effect of privilege, f.ex. this study on the effect of affluence on social skills).

Which is to say, among the population I've observed I see a certain amount of optimistic nihilism verging on calculated recklessness, a recipe for risk-taking that comes from having a character formed by the constant need to be resourceful, be grateful, be generous, find ways to laugh and remain positive, since the only other option is to submit to anxiety and depression!

When you’re just getting by, you will be amazed with what people can make do with and without. In such an environment, one learns practical knowledge of what will actually kill you (realistically like food safety and sanitation, and abstractly like behaviors) versus what is something we're culturally taught to fear.

\Soapbox rant aside, what I'm trying to say is that there is so much that we don’t need to be scared of (or refrigerate - see chapter 4, the Science of Selling). Push yourself out of our comfort zone, f* the consequences, stop waiting for the right time, get out and just try. Some of history’s famously fearless have put it more succinctly than me:

Karl Walenda: “Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting”

Eleanor Roosevelt
: "Do one thing everyday that scares you."

And as my daddy taught me: If a punch is coming, run into the punch.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 11:19 PM on December 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


I haven't noticed anybody talking about how age plays a factor. At least it did for me. In my teenage years I'd go car-surfing, among other dangerous and stupid things. Now that I have a true sense of mortality, which has come directly from me watching my body age, I find myself overly conscious, in ways that I couldn't have been as a young man.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 11:49 PM on December 11, 2010


The danger of buying street drugs is highly over-rated.

Those little letters telling you to go to jury duty? Nothing happens if you ignore them.

Traveling in Mexico is fun and in my opinion, quite a bit safer than economy travel in the US.

Expiration dates on medication are very conservative. Can often be safely ignored.

Reports of possible war between North and South Korea? Forget it.

Hunting wild fungus for food is not nearly as dangerous as most people think.

I could probably go on all night....
posted by telstar at 12:18 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Americans miss out on a LOT of travel possibilities because of our popular/media-generated conceptions that the destination is dangerous.

I'm not referring not to areas where there's genuine current unrest (esp. if it's specifically directed at Americans), but to areas we've come to think of a dangerous because they only show up in our media when something negative or inflammatory happened.

(A perfect example is Serbia. I've had some of the most wonderful and welcoming and trips of my life there -- and it's amazing how many Americans still react with concern and fear at the idea of traveling there, because we have an extremely outdated popular conception of Serbia as war-torn and dangerous.)
posted by kalapierson at 7:02 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


off topic, but in case people who use condoms as their method of bc are worried because they've well crossed the 300-rubber point:

The contraceptive failure rates are reported on a per year bases, not on a per use. A 3% failure rate means that in the sampled population, 3% of women who correctly use condoms as their sole method of birth control became pregnant that year.
[It's not a "per bone" stat, where one would have a 1-.97^300=99.9892% chance of becoming pregnant after 300 bonings.]

There are "per use" stats out there (reporting a verrrry low failure rate) based off of stress tests done by the manufacturers. But that stat is for condom failure in terms of odds of ripping/bursting/etc...not how likely one is to get pregnant if that happens when such a thing occurs (eg is one likely to be fertile when that happens, is actual use really represented by a water burst test, etc). And that statistic is far less important than how one actually uses the condom. For example, the % of users who get pregnant in a year of use is ~15% in typical users (ie include people who make errors such as not pinching the tip), and ~30% in adolescent users.

I liked your comment, CPB...it's just that statistics can be tricky to interpret, and stats that measure fecundity are especially tricky to measure & interpret (for example, there isn't even a baseline measurement of how likely one is to get pregnant if one has sex...you can't really accurately measure fecundability in practice). Dr. J Trussell has a recent paper available here in which some of the problems with data collection (in a different but related type of study) are described.

As for the question itself...ummm, I drove for a year with no current license (but that was dumb laziness and absentmindedness).
posted by neda at 7:58 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kiss the girl if she's interested in you. If anything separates me from the norm, it's that I kiss girls often, early and boldly. There doesn't even have to be any conversation first, and its actually easier if you don't know each other. When you know she wants you, just go for it on first opportunity. I've seen no negative consequence of this. There's always some moment before lips meet where she has the opportunity to pull away (though I've never seen it happen). Worst case scenario I've seen is she might stop kissing you back, give you a smile and then leave.

Risk: Zero. Reward: Possibly the love of your life.
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 9:44 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talking to homeless people.
posted by painquale at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Queen of Spreadable Fats' response is similar to something I would say (also having spent time in a 3rd world country and learning how long food actually lasts without refrigeration.) But I would add that we should perhaps also take into account the different life expectancies between 3rd world countries and our current ones before blindly adopting too many of their practices.
posted by lollusc at 6:25 PM on December 12, 2010


I spent part of my childhood in the Serengeti National Park, as my dad was doing wildlife research there. We used to camp in the middle of the park, surrounded by wilderness and wild animals, for several days at a time during his data-collection trips. And yet the idea of camping in bear country here in the States gives me the willies. It's all in what you're used to.
posted by telophase at 12:31 PM on December 13, 2010


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