Whitesburg KY
Mostly clear
Mostly clear

A land of overreaction

Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy

“Grandma, tell me about the olden days at the airport.”

“Oh, sweetie, all I can remember is the thrill of nobody seeing the holes in my socks.”

“They let you keep your shoes on? What if you were one of those crazy shoe bombers?”

“Honey, there was only one shoe bomber.”

“Well, he blew up the World Trade Center, right?”

“ You’re getting your stories confused, peach. The World Trade Center was downed by ruthless hijackers wielding box cutters. That’s why Grandma can’t bring fingernail clippers on board anymore.”


“And the shoe bomber was one individual, 11 years ago, who tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe but was foiled.”

“So how come the rest of us have to take off our shoes?”

“Because this is America, hon. We overreact. If one bad thing happens even once, we act as if it’s happening all the time and must immediately change the way we live. It’s the same reason California is considering a bill to ban pushpins in preschool.”

“Grandma, are you taking your meds?”

“What I mean is, ever since the Tylenol scare.”

“Granny? Sit down. Take a sip of water, and then start explaining things. OK? Now, what Tylenol scare?”

“Well, about 30 years ago, some crazy guy poisoned some Tylenol, and folks died.”

“How awful! And then?”

“The Tylenol makers took all the pills off the shelves. And when they put the new ones out, they sealed the bottles so tight I haven’t had a Tylenol since. And that was considered the greatest corporate response to a crisis ever.”

“But you couldn’t open the pills!”

“Well, some people could. Of course, that was before the blister packs.”

“Gran! What does this have to do with taking off our shoes at the airport?”

“Oh, well, see, after the Tylenol bottles were hermetically sealed, all the other manufacturers felt compelled to do the same thing, ‘for safety.’ That’s why even if you buy ketchup today, it comes with a safety seal and a super-tight cap and then another safety seal underneath.”

“To keep us safe?”

“To keep us thinking we’re safe. But we were safe already. No one was tampering with our ketchup.”

“And the shoe connection?”

“ Well, we just got into the habit of taking one weird and awful event — a poisoning, a shoe bombing — and saying, ‘We will stop that from happening ever again!’ — as if it were about to. Of course, if someone is really bent on blowing up a plane, he’ll figure out a new way, and dang the shoes. Still, we keep taking off our shoes because we’ve been trained to think backward: ‘If only we’d been checking shoes for explosives before the shoe bomber, this never would have happened. So from now on, check we will.’ Or, with Tylenol: ‘If only we’d sealed every single bottle of every single thing, there’d have been no poisoning. So from now on, seal we will!’”

“But that’s true, right?”

“If you live in a land of poisoners. But we don’t. So we spend scads of time and money on security we don’t need, which in turn reinforces the idea we’re under constant threat — when the truth is we live in the safest times in human history.”

“Where do the pushpins come in?”

“A child in pre-K swallowed one and died recently. So California looked back and said, ‘If only we hadn’t had pushpins in the room, the child would be alive. So from now on, no more pushpins.’”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Injuries occur in all kinds of everyday circumstances. It’s not logical or healthy to start banning normal things; it’s magical thinking: ‘Just one more ban and the world will be perfect!’”

Grandma, I heard that pretty soon you won’t have to take your shoes off at the airport anymore.”

“I heard that, too, snookums. But I still can’t bring you a snow globe.”

Child weeps. As do I.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”

©2012 Creators

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