Misc thoughts on Mad Cow Disease and when things are worth worrying about (to me)

sarah_ovenallSarah had posted in her journal that a friend of hers had asked if she was worried about getting Mad Cow disease from eating meat. Her response detailed the (reasonable) cautions she takes about eating beef, such as not eating ground beef from an unknown source.

Upon reading this I realized that I really haven’t worried about this at all, despite my proclivity for beefy goodness.

Here’s my reply, plus some additional thoughts on my worry-schema.

I’m all about the cheeseburgers!

I have thought about it, but the Mad Cow thing is, to me, one of those “it’s going to happen if it happens” things, and I could just as likely die from a e. coli outbreak because of sawdust in the air. Fatalistic attitude, I’m sure, but I only have so much “worry-room” in my head, and most of mine is used up on much more near-and-dear issues, like potential heartbreak and job security.

Besides which, the thing about dying is that you’re dead after…

In examining more closely my (rather off-the-cuff) response, I realized that my worry-schema seems to follow a few (relatively simple) rules:

  • If it’s out of my control completely, I tend not to worry about it. For example, even though I am a bit of a control freak, flying (or riding roller coasters) doesn’t worry me in the least, as there’s nothing (within reason, of course) that I can do to help the plane stay in the air (or the roller coaster car stay on the track); ergo, no need to “spend worry”. OTOH, driving (or, say rock-climbing) is an activity in which I do have control over my fate and, at least to a certain degree, my skill will determine the outcome. This I worry about.
  • I worry (dis-?)proportionally more about emotional trauma than physical trauma. Yes, the bank could go belly-up and lose all my money and yes, that would suck a whole lot, but comparing that to losing someone I care about: night and day .
  • I don’t tend to worry as much about things which are statistically insignificant. This may not sound like a big deal, but the number of people that worry about things like being attacked by killer bees (witness the success of the “Worst Case Scenario…” [warning: flash site] series of books) is astonishing. (Aside: I can’t wait for someone who knows me to point out the really statistically insignificant thing I obsess over and have forgotten about in my accounting)
  • I tend not to worry about Bad Things that I’ve already been through and survived with the (notable) exception of emotional trauma of the “loosing people variety” (ed note: I don’t know if I’ll ever deal particularly well with that flavor of trauma, but I have gotten a wee bit better over the years.) So, for example, I’ve had my wallet stolen and dealt with the consequences, so that’s not one I worry about a lot. (Now mind, I don’t do anything stooopid like leave my pocketbook laying around unguarded…)
  • My worry is proportional to the time proximity (this may seem to be a “duh”, but I include it for the sake of completeness). I really don’t worry about getting old all that much because that’s so far away. OTOH, there’ve been many times I’ve been managing projects quite calmly until right before they launch, at which point I start worrying about the silliest things.
  • I really don’t worry about dying (or things that may cause pre-mature dying) all that much. After all, as I said earlier, I’ll be *dead* after and will be (insert here whatever your view of the hereafter is, incl. “in dirt” if that’s it). Being wounded, OTOH, is worrying. IOW, if I were to worry about being hit by a truck, I’d be far more concerned with the possibility it could paralyze me than kill me.

For an interesting article on the factors that play into people’s concepts of risk, see Risk Communication: Facing Public Outrage

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