Growing up in sunny San Francisco, we always had glass jars along the window ledge above our kitchen sink. They held the usual school assignments such as sprouting beans on blotter paper and avocado seeds supported by toothpicks. We also had jars that were catch-alls for all the little buttons, pins, rubber bands and such that turn up in a kitchen. Little did we know that we were letting a potential killer into our home.
From London comes a story that will change how you view those glass jars. Fire inspectors believe that the sun’s rays refracting through a glass jar on a bedroom window ledge was responsible for a devastating fire that severely damaged a family’s home and killed their dog. Damage was so severe that it will take a year to repair.
What are we to do? Can we rely on the media to educate the public about this new risk in their usual calm and measured fashion? What about a social media campaign that can go viral and really get the word out? Perhaps we should consider legislation banning jars on window ledges and authorize the authorities to enter our homes without notice to enforce these laws. Surely corporate America can devise monitoring devices to help with enforcement. Better still, go to the source and ban the manufacture of glass jars. After all, the manufacturer is the one who is really responsible here.
Sounds silly to over-react to such a small risk, doesn't it? Yet this is precisely what we seem to do every time we face a new risk. Case in point was the recent Ebola “crisis” where people with no connection to the affected countries were convinced that they had been infected somehow.
I don’t mean to minimize or make light of a tragedy and I do believe that it’s prudent to take reasonable precautions against even such small risks. But the simple fact is that we tend to over-inflate risks and have an unrealistic expectation that we can live in a risk free world. The less we understand a risk, the more we fear it. This is why you’re probably not too concerned about glass jars on your window ledge but are uneasy about something like Ebola. And why you read blog posts with provocative titles.
So how do you keep your sanity? Gather the facts and understand the difference between real and perceived risk. When you filter predictions of disaster through this lens, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to put risks into perspective. Focus on real risks, not imaginary ones.