Assessing Risk in an Interconnected World
Humans are terrible at assessing risks. Keep reading. This isn't a judgment.
Because of the involvement of the amygdala, or lizard brain, we assess risk through an emotional filter. Which means we give more weight to feelings than data. It's why we buy lottery tickets and fear snakes over distracted drivers.
We underestimate complex threats. This is an evolutionary response that helped us deal with the most pressing thing in front of us (like that snake).
We also evolved to call upon past experiences to inform our decisions, which often includes unconscious trauma responses piggybacking along.
This means that the level of threat is calculated based on how similar it is to past threats---which differs person to person. So, it's not about the current threat itself but rather if that threat reminds you of something---whether it's the time you were hospitalized after a car accident or the times you were forced to do something against your will.
Additionally, we have cognitive biases that play a HUGE role in risk assessment such as the Anchoring Bias which tells us the first opinion we form is more accurate or the Optimism Bias that causes us to think that we, personally, are less likely to experience a negative outcome than those *other people.* Apparently, individualistic societies, like the U.S. are very likely to hold the latter.
And, of course, the Confirmation Bias that just reinforces everything above.
With all of this on the table, how well do you think most people do at assessing risk for themselves and others?
Where might that leave us in a global pandemic?
We are learning a difficult collective lesson on interconnectedness, right now. We are experiencing the obvious impact of how another person's decision affects our life or the lives of people we love.
I say "obvious impact" because this has been happening all along. Our decisions have always impacted one another---not always fatally, but sometimes---but our privilege usually prevents us from seeing it. For example, that chocolate we buy or those pants we're wearing might be produced through child slave labor, unless we've consciously chosen brands with that in mind.
It can be easy to either underestimate or deny how our individual choices might impact another OR believe we did everything "right" and absolve ourselves of any remaining impacts of our interconnection. But there is no separate "I" in this collective universe, no matter how much we pretend otherwise and, unfortunately, no amount of "right" choices completely eliminates adverse reactions.
When it comes to this current moment, this web of connection is true when we are Masked, Unmasked, Vaccinated, Unvaccinated. Really, because of the sheer contagion of the evolving virus, if we are in contact with any other being, we pose a risk (relative to our choices, of course) to that being and vice versa. Not just health risks. Maybe someone won't be hospitalized but sick enough that they can't work for several days or weeks on an already strained budget. There are many impacts.
So, each of us will make the choices we make. We will assess our individual and collective risk. Most of us will do it poorly. And, no matter the reason for the choices, we will each impact ourselves and one another. And this is the way it has always been. And it's an incredibly vulnerable reality to accept.
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