Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Don't Let Irrational Fears Cheat You Out of Enjoying Life

Television news shows, documentaries, and so-called "news magazines" routinely sensationalize beyond belief situational elements of danger that are generally seen, by people dealing with them on a daily basis, as holding only a minimal amount of risk.

A case in point is the so-called Columbia Bar, at the mouth of the Columbia River separating Oregon and Washington. The Discovery Channel ran an all-stops-out show a year or so ago that shouted to the mountains that it was the most dangerous crossing in the world, the "Graveyard of the Pacific", and on and on ad nauseum. And unfortunately this tabloid-television "mockumentary" travesty on the truth has been repeated numerous times in the interim, whenever they're having a slow time and want to sucker in some viewers with the promise of Death! Destruction! Drowning! Danger!

Consequently a friend of mine has developed such an irrational fear of crossing the bar that he has stopped just short of insisting that I am a self-destructive suicidal moron bound for certain death if I go fishing out of the mouth of the river with our mutual friend who owns a fishing boat.

He has also, of course, spent an inordinate amount of time ferreting out even more sensationalistic Internet stories about deaths by drowning, boats run aground, etc., at the Columbia Bar that unfortunately have served both to validate and exacerbate his fear. The fear has now taken over his psyche to the point where he is not only unwilling, but also unable to consider any evidence that those fears are overinflated, sensationalized, or unreasonable. But I guess that very inability is basically the definition of "irrational fear".

A little research among the people who actually go over the bar on a regular basis shows something quite different from those sensationalized television-tabloid accounts of daily death and destruction. The commander of the Coast Guard station at Ilwaco, Washington, who is presumably in a position to know something about it, reports that if you exercise reasonable caution, everything will be fine and you will survive, like the vast majority of people who cross the bar all the time:

While the Columbia River Bar remains an inherently dangerous body of water, it's much safer today than it was in the days of Captain Robert Gray. Although, the bar is known as the "graveyard of the Pacific," the amount of shipwrecks and fatal accidents is fairly low in this age.
The fishermen who go out of the Port of Ilwaco every day, also in a position to know, say the same thing -- be sure to follow the threads in this discussion; they are very illuminating on the whole topic of sensationalized television shows.

And not considered in all these stories of Death on the Bar is this simple question: How many deaths per individual sortie, i.e., one boat transiting the bar one time? Not an easy statistic to come up with since each trip is not tallied individually, but when you consider that it is also one of the busiest passages in the US, a conservative estimate would be that there are several thousand crossings for each death, and probably many more -- it's likely the ratio is in the tens of thousands. I believe that this is a reasonable risk to take for those of us in the Reality-Based Community.

I think this Mark Twain quote is especially pertinent here: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream."

Any endeavor that man can propose will perforce carry some element of risk. Even doing absolutely nothing is risky. The real trick is to calmly and rationally assess those risks, don't listen to the caterwauling of the sensationalistic media -- yes, that even includes the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel and even PBS on occasion -- and do the research yourself. You will almost invariably discover that the danger is exaggerated, the fears are groundless, and you can do what you want to do without cowering in fear that something awful is going to happen to you.

The same thing holds true for the official Homeland Security "Threat Levels" -- we've seen them go up and down more or less arbitrarily over the last couple of years, with the only result being that we are constantly kept off balance and fearful. Bullshit is what I say about it. I'm going to DC for the September 24 anti-war demonstration, I am going to fly there and back, while I am on the East Coast I will be riding public transit -- including subways -- in Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City.

I refuse to let fear rule my life.

And finally, remember the old saying, "A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one."


Anonymous said...

What did churchill say about freedom? Was it him... To give up

Anonymous said...

It is better to be safe from fictious fears than to face your real fears.

When in danger and in doubt...

I remember a story about how dangerous it was when the ship pilots had to ROW out to the ships waiting to come in... guiding them in was the easy part. But they had to row out hours of rowing over that dangerous point to guide ships around/in whatever...

God forbid you with a seasoned and local fisherman have the balls to cross the street after looking both ways twice.

Anonymous said...

If you are one of those people that drive down the road in the fast lane, 10 miles below the speed limit with a cellphone against your ear and your blinker on, who doesn't pay any attention to whats going on around him or care, then you shouldn't go across the Columbia Bar because the Coast Guard will probably have to fish you out. I guess thats what I like about it! Gonzo

Anonymous said...

Gonzo you are so right!!!!!!