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How I Think About Risk

Introduction

The first thing we must acknowledge is that everything we do carries some amount of risk. Even getting up from bed each morning kills 130 people per year. Heck, 2,000 people injure themselves each year pulling apart frozen food.

Getting up from bed each morning kills 130 people per year. Heck, 2k people injure themselves each year pulling apart frozen food. Click To Tweet

If you’re an average person like most of us, you view risk irrationally. You substitute true risk for amount of fear. That’s not necessarily a negative. It is what it is.

To clarify, when I refer to risk in this article I’m talking about bodily injury or risk of death. I’m not talking about the risk associated with business decisions or social risks that push you outside of your comfort zone.

I’m hyper-rational and my view of danger is through a rational lense. By the end of this article, half of you will think I’m a heartless dick. But, really, it’s that I’m rational. And, honestly, probably too rational.

Even though I will shed a tear during a sad movie, my emotions seem a bit jacked up at times. I remember breaking up with an ex-girlfriend and, even though I was sad and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I felt I approached it like a business meeting. I couldn’t help it.

This article will explore the balancing act between:

  • the risk of something bad happening, and,
  • the action that may be taken to counteract that risk and the results of that action.

How “We” View Risk

By “we”, I mean the general population. Or, the average irrational person. No offense. Again, it is what it is.

We view risk based on our experience. Our experience can be in terms of lived experience or perceived experience.

A lived experience is like burning your hand on the stove for the first time as a young child. You quickly realize the risk of pain resulting from this action is 100% and significant countermeasures should be taken to avoid it.

A perceived experience is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can call it fear. Remember the first time you realized that getting eaten by a shark is a possibility? You see something on the news and you can easily imagine yourself in their position. You apply some percentage of risk to that situation, usually much higher than the true risk as you want to avoid it at all costs. One person every two years dies from a shark attack.

However, most of our risk is evaluated through perceived experience largely from the mainstream media. Nowadays, the mainstream media is largely for entertainment. I think most of us agree with that.

Their job is to cover the things that will keep your eyeballs on their content. Their motto is sensationalism, their profession is yellow journalism, and their strategy is fear. It’s tremendously effective.

But, it’s not that simple. Things that are out of our control are also judged as riskier. Even though walking is the second riskiest form of transportation, the average person is much more frightened of an airplane ride. Do you see where I’m going with the irrationality? It’s not to say it’s wrong. It is what it is.

You know those people who literally leap out of their seats when a dog on a leash gets within 15 feet? Dogs kill 30-50 people in the USA each year. Yet, many tenants are not allowed to rent a home if they’re the owner of a Pitbull. Pitbulls look scary. It makes for a great “news” story.

I finally looked into this one and to no one’s surprise, I found some irrationality. Between 2005 and 2018, Pitbulls killed 311 Americans, one person every 16 days.

If these landlords really wanted to limit their liability, they’d remove all the showers which kill about 16,000 people per year, or 2 people every hour.

How I View Risk

It’s quite simple. I judge to the best of my abilities how likely I am to die from taking (or not taking) an action. I do this intuitively or based on research.

I understand that any action I take has a reaction, or effect. This is important as it controls my behavior. Cost versus benefit for my business-minded readers.

For example, if I’m in the American Midwest and a lightning storm breaks out while I’m walking home from the grocery store, I can continue walking or take cover.

If I take cover, I’m using more time, maybe my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream melts before it finds a place in my stomach. Maybe I’m late for an important date or my roommate’s surprise birthday party.

If I continue walking, I’m risking my life.

But, how risky am I being?

I know that lightning kills about 82 people per year which means my chances of getting killed (or even really struck) by lightening are small enough to warrant my continued march home to my couch and the season finale of HBO’s Westworld, or my important date, or my roommates surprise birthday.

I decide my level of acceptable risk while completely ignoring the media. That’s not true. I use the media to understand what they’re sensationalizing and how I can take advantage of that.

Their recent sensationalizing of the Coronavirus gave me a huge opportunity to re-invest in the stock market. I’m up 41% since March 18th!

Last year I wrote an article about why I don’t watch the news, but in the end, I provided a few unbiased (read: not mainstream media) media options.

Risky Things That We Do Anyways

There are plenty of normal everyday activities we partake in willingly even though they can be considered risky.

Above I mentioned how walking is the second most dangerous form of transit. Do you know the first? Motorcycles. Since I know driving is also quite dangerous (who hasn’t been in at least one serious car crash?) and I’m too broke to rent a helicopter, I should stay inside.

Did you know that walking is the second most dangerous form of transit? Click To Tweet

Literally, inside. Did you know that Mosquitoes kill 750,000 to 2,000,000 per year! No more camping for this guy!

Do I need to mention smoking and the immediate and long-term detrimental health effects?

I’m going to put asshole friends in this category, too. They’re no fun, can make you depressed, or even stab you in the back! We’ve all got one (hopefully just one) and we all wish we didn’t.

Why Coronavirus Is Not Risky

I first heard of Coronavirus from my Dad in the middle of January. He even offered to pay for my flight home, something he’d never done before. He was ahead of the curve and had great insight into what would come over the next few months. However, as soon as I heard this I knew something was off.

Intuitively, I thought that it’s strange that we identified this brand new virus almost immediately. I mean, how many times have you been to a doctor who has no idea what’s wrong with you? And you’re telling me that someone identified this virus weeks after it killed someone and exactly where it came from? Do you know how many viruses are on Earth? Do you know that you’re made much of virus? Nah, I’m calling BS.

That significant and concerning oddity aside, here’s how I made my most current (and constantly updated) judgment of Coronavirus, in chronological order:

In early February, I heard about the Diamond Princess cruise ship where the passengers, mostly elderly, the most at-risk age group, were quarantined on the ship for two weeks. The death rate was 1%. Ok. Not scary. Even a Stanford professor projected out the death rate based on the US age structure at 0.125%. That’s not scary.

In mid-March, Italy was experiencing the largest Coronavirus outbreak to date. More than 30,000 people died and the death rate was around 10%. That’s scary. But then the Italian government informed the world that those who died were elderly and 99% of them had one, two, or three pre-existing ailments. The outbreak was also specific to northern Italy with an aging population. Ok. Not so scary.

At this point, I’m putting things like air pollution, bottled water, and McDonald’s as higher-risk activities than Coronavirus as it doesn’t seem to affect young people.

But, here comes the media to put me in my place! I think I’m so high and mighty as a young and healthy person. Not so fast, dannybooboo!

I started seeing entire news stories dedicated to single individuals, seemingly young and healthy, dying from Coronavirus. Individuals just like me!

On this one, however, I knew better. I already know what the main street media is up to (see their formula for max shock value here). And, luckily, I just read a book of fallacies and was able to recognize the strawman argument quite easily. If the proposed claim is that coronavirus mostly kills old people, you can’t refute that claim by highlighting a single case where it killed a young person. That’s illogical and I don’t accept it as a valid argument.

Watch out for the most common mainstream media scare tactic: the strawman fallacy. Click for protection. Click To Tweet

Then, I saw this beautiful piece titled “Teenager’s Death in California Is Linked to Coronavirus” only to have this update a week later: The teenager has been dropped from the list of deaths from Covid-19. Still not scary.

Then, I saw a whole slew of oddities:

What this all comes down to in my mind is perception versus reality.

The perceived risk is high. It’s being covered 24/7 by the media, it’s taken up most of our conversations, and our lives have been significantly altered.

But the reality paints a much rosier picture. While people are dying from a respiratory or hypoxemic illness, it’s not many.

Coronavirus will not even make the top 10 lists of most deadly things on the planet. Not by a long shot. Traffic accidents, the tenth most deadly killer on Earth, kill more than 1,500,000 people globally each year.

Remember the outbreak in northern Italy and how scary that was? Turns out that fewer people died in Italy through the first three months of the year than the prior year. That’s not to make light of those who died. It’s to bring rationality to the true danger posed by Coronavirus. If you were paying attention to the mainstream media, you, like I, thought the world was coming to an end. I surely thought the total deaths in the country would exceed that of last year.

In fact, the 2017/2018 flu season still ranks considerably deadlier than the 2019/2020 flu season.

I’m referencing the influenza virus because lots of viruses every year lead to pneumonia and influenza as death but we normally never identify the virus. Instead, we call it a respiratory illness, or influenza. It’s only in 2020 that we’ve decided to drill down into the details and vilify COVID19.

The reality is that coronavirus is not risky for the vast majority of the world’s population.

Even if you have it, it’s not unlikely that you wouldn’t even know. Kevin Durant, a famous NBA player, tested positive and was symptom-free had this to say: feeling fine.

But, all of these decisions are having massive effects on the world. The WHO estimate 265 million will go hungry in 2020, twice the normal rate.

What Is Actually Really Scary

This article wouldn’t be complete without naming a few things that scare the living shit of me.

First up are asteroids. They’re how the dinosaurs went extinct and there’s billions of them.

The Black Plague of 1347 killed 60% of the European population in three years. Now that’s a true pandemic.

Being Jewish in the early 1900s.

With a rate of 143,847 murders per 100,000 residents, living in the Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, gives me the chills.

But the winner goes to air pollution. It’s very scary, especially the small PM2.5 particles.

No one seems to care, but most of the inhabitants of the world’s biggest cities breathe it in. Coming from America where air quality is not an issue, I assumed rich countries and clean air were synonymous. That was proven false when I visited Dubai.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m a hell of a lot more scared of a human randomly murdering me than Coronavirus. I’m only partly joking.

My point is this: what takes our attention is elevated in importance. Whether it’s saving for retirement or dying from coronavirus, it’s fair to say that basically everything is getting either more or less attention than it deserves. I only ask you to be cognizant of this.

What takes our attention is elevated in importance. Whether it’s saving for retirement or dying from coronavirus. Click To Tweet

I was in Hanoi, Vietnam in March when I saw a man riding a scooter at night without a helmet but with a mask. At that time, Coronavirus claimed the lives of zero people, but traffic accidents resulted in more than 3,000 deaths. What occupied the majority of this man’s attention over the past month was Coronavirus.

More seriously, all decisions have effects that should be considered. If I decide something is riskier than it is, the effect of that decision is probably localized to me (my ice cream melts if I wait out the lightning storm). But if a government deems something as risky, that decision affects an entire population. Those effects should be considered.

As it relates to Coronavirus, the effects of a global shutdown were not properly considered. And what if we realize that Coronavirus really wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous as we originally thought?

I can tell you first-hand about unemployed local friends now selling fruit on the street or homeless cats starving to death.

On a macro level, there’s been an increase in suicides and drug overdoses due to unemployment. And there’s been an increase in domestic violence cases.

Not to mention the dying, of which there are about 9,000 per day in America, have to die alone. This is the most egregious crime of all. Imagine you have to die alone, without any loved ones. I want to say that again: Imagine living your life and when it’s all over, you’re forced to die alone. Imagine the depth of sadness in your soul with your last breath.

And, it’s all for naught…

Support Me ⇒

Danny Rusteen

In 2015, Danny got fired from Airbnb. Just two years later, he started two successful businesses and wrote a best-selling book. Since then, he's become a bodybuilding, location-independent, minimalist traveling the world while living in Airbnbs. He describes himself as a skeptic, contrarian, and expert cuddler. In his spare time he reads, cooks, and plays basketball. Follow his journey on Instagram or YouTube.

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