In the news business, the guiding axiom is "If it bleeds, it leads." People like excitement without risk. They gobble up news articles about murder, terrorism and disaster. They consume novels and movies about scary stories which engage their imaginations. Why that is the case doesn't really matter, because it works.
There is a new term that describes a phenomenon which we have been witnessing over the last few decades: dangerism. It is something that anyone over thirty years old has likely noticed. Gever Tulley coined the term in a fascinating e-book called "Beware Dangerism - Why we worry about the wrong things and what it is doing to our kids." We constantly hear of all of the dangers in our lives, from toxic materials to playground equipment. It appears that our lives are getting more dangerous, because that is what we hear. Half of the TV commercials are for depression medication. When you take a step back and look at real life, there has never been a safer time and place to be alive than in present day America. Violent crime is down, technology has made most activities much safer and enjoyable, the environment is much cleaner than it was decades ago. We make tremendous progress in every decade, yet we keep hearing how things are so much worse.
Tulley's point is that we are constantly reinforcing the danger of life in every child's mind rather than the opportunity available for learning, for inventing, for innovating, for getting better. People wish for a riskless life and don't want to take responsibility when something goes wrong. Life, however, is not safe. There are risks attached to everything. By giving the impression to our children that life should be riskless, they develop a higher aversion to risk and the mentality that some savior should protect them from every danger in nature and society.
This mentality is manifested in labels and law suits. If the coffee is scalds, just sue the company serving it, after all, they didn't specifically say "caution - hot coffee may burn you." The overpopulation of lawyers feeds on this mentality and makes a very good living from dangerism.
When my children were young, we used to go down to the park in town. One of the favorite attractions was the merry-go-round, the kid-powered kind where it turned by foot. It was one of my favorites when I was young. You will very rarely, if ever, see one of these contraptions in a park now. Are they too dangerous? According to actual statistics, a child is and was more likely to get struck by lightening than die from any equipment in a public park. We no longer see merry-go-rounds, however, not because they are a clear danger to anybody, but because lawyers made them too much of a financial risk.
That mentality also manifests itself in thousands of regulations which don't make us safer and don't mitigate any real risk, but only limit what we can do in a society that is supposed to be free. It deceives our citizens into thinking that the government is the savior, that it will take care of our every need, and that it has our best interests at heart. That is a far greater risk to society as a greater percentage of the population becomes dependent on the savior figure. People no longer feel responsible for the own lives and actions and will blame their own ill circumstances on anyone they can. We give government permission to encroach on more and more of our lives, and that is a growing, slow-motion disaster.
Children, as well as adults, need to take risks. They need to build things and fix things. They need to explore. They need to push themselves further. They need to climb trees. They need bruises and scrapes. Broken bones are sometimes the best teachers. That certainly does not mean that parents should ignore safety altogether and let their children put their lives or those of others in jeopardy. It does mean that they should not try to shield them from everything. Kids need to learn that actions have consequences and that, if they are to accomplish anything, they will need to take some type of risk. Scary stories can be fun when they are told around a campfire. They can be strangling if they become the paradigm for life, and distract from the overwhelming dangers lurking within the supposed savior, stories which history has shown are the scariest of all.
Dan McLaughlin is a columnist for The Post-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.