Sunday, November 01, 2009

Conservation of Worry

In July I wrote about what I've inaccurately nicknamed "conservation of risk".

Something else similar only in name is what I've nicknamed "conservation of worry".

The idea is that parents (especially moms) are kind of programmed to worry a certain amount about their kids. Now that life in America is amazingly safe, all that instinctual need to worry gets channeled into making mountains out of mole hills.

Parents used to have genuine worries about their children starving, dying of illness, being eaten by wild animals, and so forth. These are quite rare now. So we worry about pacifiers, allergies, television, BPA in plastic, child car seats, and other minor issues that would have been laughably small concerns even a few generations ago.

I probably do this as much as most dads in Eugene.

Child car seats are actually a great example. Insurance companies have known for years that child car seats do very little to prevent fatalities (although they help prevent less serious injuries). All of the time and money this country has invested in child car seats could have saved many more lives if instead applied to disease research. However, as a parent I can see a change by buying a child car seat for me child: no similar feedback happens from donating money to cancer research.

Crime is a revealing issue. Violent crime rates have been decreasing, but worry has not decreased because crime is makes a convenient worry item. (Especially in a culture where we are comfortable with steps to prevent fires but not shootings in schools.)

I just wrote about vaccination again. Now I'll add, sort of as a concluding post-script, that it makes a lot of sense to me that parents who have little need to worry about their children dying of illness instead worry about the potential harm of "what big medicine wants".

After all, if we were really rational creatures then we would spend the time saved by our laundry machines sitting and watching them, enjoying half an hour of relaxation, rather than rushing on to the next chore. (Hm. Conservation of hectic-ness?)

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