The more we try to reduce risk and make everybody safer, the more at risk we become. The reasons for this are varied. One reason is that it is human nature, evidenced by just about every social program we have, that when something is created to help or fix a problem, the rest of us forget about it. We figure somebody is handling it and we don’t need to think about it. I have discussed this quirk of our society before when I brought up our need for self-actualization and our denial of it through programs. Half the country is happy to pay higher taxes and feel that the government is taking care of the less fortunate. The other half of the country is ticked off that they are paying higher taxes to cover these less fortunate which they feel are just free-loading. And a few of us are trying to point out that these programs are not actually helping.
Stripping people of their responsibility is stripping them of their humanity and ability to reach personal fulfillment. However the point of this blog is to share the idea that the incessant need to keep everyone safe is the very thing that is making us more unsafe. Witness bicycle helmet laws. In 2001, according to Bicycle Universe, an online resource, head injuries and deaths have gone up since helmet laws were put in place, based on previous numbers from 1991. What’s more is that bicycle riding had actually gone down. So, that increase is a real question to ponder.
Some experts, along with a 17 year old kid in a wheelchair looking back at his accident from 2 years prior, are suggesting that the helmet makes us feel safe and so we try things we would not have felt safe trying without one. Basically, our behavior is riskier.
In the environment of horses, there are stories of individuals who have been hurt either riding or just being around a horse. I hear lots of comments from well-meaning, but misguided people who are raising their voices and fists in unified solidarity that the person should have been wearing a helmet. That conversation can go on for days with people virtually slapping each other on the back as to their use of helmets. This kind of fervor is exactly what I’m talking about. The use or non-use of a helmet is their entire focus. I have seen people sent to the hospital because they were stepped on or kicked and the entire conversation following is focused in the fact they didn’t wear a helmet. As if the injury could have been avoided had they done so.
You can be hurt or killed by a horse with or without a helmet. Christopher Reeve was wearing a helmet when he had his accident. He was still paralyzed and eventually died from an infection resulting from the inability to move from that accident. This need to sing the praises of helmets is putting us at risk, because we will feel safer and do things that push the new perceived boundaries that really have not changed. I’m not suggesting we stop wearing helmets. I am suggesting that we pretend we aren’t.
We can see the same phenomenon from seat belt laws. Basically we saw a reduction in injury and fatality with the mandatory use of seat belts. So we raised the speed limit.
Humans need a certain degree or level of risk or challenge. The more we apply extrinsic safeguards, the more we ignore our intrinsic ones.
If we really wanted to create a safer society, we would slowly discard all or many of the laws we created to hold our hand, and we would become more self-responsible.
We need to move from extrinsic rules and regulations to intrinsic values and self-actualization.