A squirrel chomped the leg of a senior citizen sitting on the porch of a retirement home in Deltona, FL, last week. A television 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: I’m the gal tossing almonds to my friends as I walk to the subway. 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 which 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 once-in-a-lifetime again.
(Editor’s note: This once-in-a-lifetime accident did, in fact, happen again, but this time the squirrel in question was killed by a BB. Standard journalistic practice demands three events before we have a trend. So Lenore’s point stands).
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? Give hazmat suits to the golden-agers who insist on venturing outside despite the terrible danger?
We saw this method of operation 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 and millions of meals Applebee’s serves at more than 2,000 locations across America — and because it got insanely 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 for years just for fun.
But as a country, we have become so infected with the idea that if something bad happens anywhere, ever, even once, that 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 security apparatchik is allowed to play the odds — even odds of a trillion to one — and let you go through.
In a litigious society like ours, 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 pro-actively preparing. Otherwise, how will we look in court? The way we do this is by wasting a lot of time, or money, or by making new rules.
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 taken off.
This means that if, some day, a single would-be terrorist hides a feisty, rabid squirrel under her wig (not that most squirrels are rabid!) you can bet that the Transportation Security Administration will start instituting mandatory hair-tugs as we take off our shoes.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker, author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and a contributor at Reaso
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