A squirrel chomped the leg of a senior citizen sitting on the porch of a retirement home in Deltona, Florida, recently. A TV station there, WESH, reports that the victim ran inside, furry felon still attached, whereupon it bit two or three more seniors.
This is terrible. (Especially for a squirrel fanatic like me. One bad squirrel does not a bad species make!) But I bring it up because at the end of this “news” story, the reporter said in all seriousness: “Tonight I spoke with the parent company that runs the senior living center here in Deltona. They described in detail what happened but did not say what, if anything, they’re doing to prevent another attack.”
That’s right. The company did not abjectly, automatically and immediately announce any dramatic new measures it will take to make sure this once-in-a-lifetime incident does not happen again.
What does the reporter think should happen? Perhaps the parent company could chop down all the trees on its property or cover the porch in wire mesh. Maybe it could hire some squirrel assassins.
This “something must be done!” mentality is so pervasive that we think it’s normal, even prudent. But it’s not. It’s nutty. It’s making us dumb, wasteful, mean, ungrateful and scared.
We saw this MO in action a few years back when Applebee’s accidentally served a toddler an alcoholic drink. Because this happened to come on the heels of a similar incident or two — out of the millions of meals Applebee’s serves at more than 2,000 locations across America — and because it got ridiculously intense media attention, the company vowed to give only single-serve juice packs to kids from now on. As if they’d been deliberately serving kids mojitos just for fun for years.
We have become infected with the idea that if something bad happens anywhere, ever, even once, it is proof positive that whatever is normally quite safe (ordering apple juice, trick-or-treating, sitting on the porch) is not safe ENOUGH.
If you need proof of this conviction, try getting through airport security with an unopened can of Coke. You might as well be toting a crossbow. No TSA apparatchik is allowed to play the odds — even odds of 1 trillion-to-1 — and let you go through.
In our litigious society, we also face an extra, boomerang worry. After first worrying that an extremely unlikely event is extremely likely to happen again (in the exact same way), we now also worry that if it does, we will have to prove we were proactively preparing. Otherwise, how would we look in court?
The media’s role in this riot of irrationality is obvious. Like the reporter at WESH-TV, our scribes act as if any person, place or company that doesn’t immediately change its ways in the face of some unpredictable happenstance just doesn’t care enough. Tsk, tsk. It’s why your ketchup comes with a safety seal around the bottle and another safety seal under the cap. Normal life is peppered with Kabuki-esque precautions.
But there’s a downside to insisting that the very, very safe — the statistically safe — is not safe enough and must be stopped. Kids (and now maybe seniors) cower inside. Companies waste money on unnecessary safeguards. Airport trash cans overflow with drinks. Precautionary measures get added on but never get taken off.
This means that if someday a single would-be terrorist hides a feisty rabid squirrel under her wig (not that most squirrels are rabid!), you can bet that the TSA screeners will start instituting mandatory hair-tugs as we take off our shoes.
Not that I want to give them any ideas.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids” and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, “World’s Worst Mom,” airs on Discovery Life.